As a physics teacher, Barry Riehle will do just about anything to keep his students excited about learning. In his 20 years in the classroom, the 1974 and 1989 graduate, who chairs the science department at Turpin High School in suburban Cincinnati, has taught the principles of friction by pulling a tablecloth from under a dinner setting, allowed students to use crossbow-style dart guns to study projectile motion and initiated an area-wide bridge-building competition to help his charges better understand the concepts of strength and flexibility.
But in terms of potential self-sacrifice—not to mention shock value—nothing in Riehle’s educational arsenal exceeds his approach to teaching impulse and momentum. Each year he lies on a 2-by-3-foot bed of nails, places a 25-pound concrete block on a piece of plywood on his chest and then enlists another faculty member to break the block with a sledgehammer. It’s a bit uncomfortable, he says, but the nails aren’t a perfect point, and there are enough of them concentrated in a small area that they don’t break the skin.
Riehle’s creative approach earned him teacher-of-the-year honors among Cincinnati math and science teachers this year, but he credits three of his professors at the University—John Hart, Terry Toepker and Ray Miller—with inspiring his energetic style. “Their enthusiasm was contagious,” he says. “And I realized that as a teacher, that’s what grabs kids’ interest.”