Photo by Jeffrey S. Hall Photography
Normally, teachers forbid students from throwing food at school, but Doug Forrest makes an exception for the sake of science.
In the fall, the Pickerington High School North physics teacher can be found with his class out by the football stadium, walking under the bleachers as his students try to drop eggs on his head.
“If they have done their calculations correctly, and with a bit of luck, they can hit me,” says Forrest, 49. “I get asked every year, ‘Aren’t you going to wear a helmet?’ or ‘Aren’t you going to wear a hat?’ Well, that’s no fun.”
But how does it feel to be hit by an egg hurtling through the air?
“Does it hurt? Yeah, it kind of hurts if you get hit, but that’s OK,” Forrest says.
Forrest’s hands-on approach to teaching has become a hallmark of his classes, but he says his goal as an educator extends beyond students learning scientific concepts.
“One of the things that I say at the beginning of the year is (to) tell students if the most important thing that they get out of my class is the physics, I probably have done a bad job,” he says. “I really want them to get out being curious learners, being good questioners and being able to evaluate the work that they do and the work that other people do.”
Photo courtesy of Doug Forrest
This natural curiosity is what initially inspired Forrest’s personal interest in science, which led him to The Ohio State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in molecular genetics in 1990.
After working in a molecular biology research lab at the University of Cincinnati for several years, Forrest says, he discovered his passion for teaching while instructing incoming graduate students. So he decided to get his teaching license.
In 1994, Forrest began teaching in the Pickerington Local School District, but continued to work part-time in a food microbiology laboratory for 20 years.
“Whenever you hear things like, ‘There’s a recall on so-and-so because of a salmonella infection,’ that was kind of the type of testing that we did,” he says. “I think that really gave me pretty good insight into how science works.”
Forrest is grateful to have experienced firsthand the practical application of science in business and industry, and hopes to give students similar opportunities through the experiments they conduct throughout the year.
One the most memorable outings, he says, is the annual trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Forrest’s AP Physics class visits the track in Lexington to collect data on the cars and races.
The students also get the chance to interview drivers and members of the racing teams to see how physics is used in the sport, which is an aspect of the trip that especially interested North senior Carmen Moesle.
“You don’t think about physics watching the cars go around the track, but when you talk to the racers, they know so much,” says Moesle, 17.
Photo courtesy of Doug Forrest
As a student in AP Physics, Moesle says she appreciates Forrest’s passion for teaching challenging subject matter.
“His class is tough, but the hands-on experiments really help with learning the concepts,” she says. “He’s a great teacher. You can tell that he really cares.”
Outside of the classroom, Moesle says Forrest’s enthusiasm has inspired many students to take their love of science and share it with others through an extracurricular group called Team Physics. The team, which usually comprises about 20 high school students, visits middle and elementary schools in the district to perform scientific demonstrations throughout the year.
As the president of Team Physics, Moesle assists Forrest and the rest of the team in designing performances that correspond to the science curriculum covered in classes. She says the goal of the program is to make experimentation accessible through skits and demonstrations, such as having a student lie down on a bed of nails to illustrate the concepts of force and pressure.
Forrest says Team Physics has been a rewarding experience for both the high school members and their younger audiences since the program’s inception in 1999.
“One of the things that’s great is when the high school students … come up and say, ‘I had a kid hug me,’” he says. “The high school students really have to work hard to make sure they understand how to get a concept across at a level that’s appropriate for a first-grader or second-grader. That’s really challenging to do.”
Though he lives in Reynoldsburg, Forrest has spent his entire teaching career in Pickerington, and he says the connections he has made with students and teachers have made him feel at home.
“We have a fantastic population of students. … They are definitely willing to pursue various types of questions when there may not be a clear path to the answer,” Forrest says. “Science isn’t just about facts; it’s really a process, and if we can get students to be curious about the world around them, that is by far the best thing we can do as educators.”
For more information about Team Physics, visit pickteamphysics.weebly.com.
Amanda Etchison is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.