They tried their hand at devising equations. They learned how to add in a different way. They looked at how mass and acceleration influence force. They dove into some history.

And then 110 freshmen from South High School in Minneapolis headed to Memory Lanes on Tuesday to put their newfound knowledge to use at the bowling alley.

“Bowling is like my favorite thing ever,” said Aidan Denison, who said she gets the chance only once every several years but rolled a 105 in her first game. “I’ve been super excited for this field trip.”

The unit on the physics of bowling was the idea of science teacher Melinda Bennett, born out of the displacement of high school classes for universal ACT testing of all district juniors. The need to segregate the tested students bounced the four sections of students from their normal rooms. In preparation, Bennett recalled the excitement from when she threw a surprise bowling birthday party for her son last summer, and how non-athletes tended to roll the best scores.

“I thought this would be so much fun to do with my students because there’s so much physics involved,” she said.

So with fellow ninth-grade teachers Michelle Ockman, Stephanie Woldum and Rob Panning-Miller, she devised four in-school stations on aspects of bowling and the afternoon field trip. Students devised an equation to predict the number of total pins if the triangular pattern of pins was expanded to 15 or even 50 rows. They learned that bowlers aim at 10 pins because Connecticut outlawed the British-derived lawn game of ninepins after authorities worried that 19th-century aristocrats gambled too freely on it. They learned the theory of how to bend a ball into the sweet spot for a strike, and how much the probability of a strike falls if the bowler misses the optimal six-degree angle.

And then they had fun. The screams were deafening when Geonette Doble started her second game with a strike. Asked for their first-game score, her compatriots proudly announced a 266 — with all four scores added together.

First toss a strike

Down the 30 lanes, Francisco Becerra notched a strike in his first bowling toss ever and hit a 101 for his first game despite a couple of gutter balls. By his second game, the lefthander was bowling on two different lanes.

The early champ was Gabby Moose, who hit 140 despite not bowling since the fall; that was later matched by Daniel Tondra and topped by Katy Harriss at 148. Bennett beamed. “It would be a miracle for me to to break 100,” she said. Many students bowled far below that and a few even double-armed the ball between their legs.

Of course, fun took precedence over applying physics lessons, and that was fine with the teachers, who encourage team building. Woldum said it’s a great way to bond with students, who take most of their core classes together this year and some of them next year. It also fits with how she approaches classes like intermediate algebra, where she mixes lessons on correlation with practical exercises in social justice by having students test for income-related patterns in census data.

Other students displaced Tuesday by testing at South undertook different activities. Seniors were encouraged to check out college campuses. Students in the liberal arts program watched the movie “Lincoln” to supplement their studies. But the open ninth-graders had the most fun.

Quick learner

One newbie, Sharif Attia, climbed the learning curve quickly. The first ball the Egyptian immigrant threw landed in the next lane. He hit four pins on his second toss, before his third landed 15 feet down the alley. Seven pins went down on his next throw. He rolled a 51 for the game, not the last in his group, and toppled even more pins his second time around.

“The more weight I throw, the more the things drop,” he said, applying one of his physics lessons. The other was more elusive. “It never curves,” he added. “I have no idea why.”


Twitter: @brandtstrib