LA MIRADA — Remember that last week of high school before summer began? Slogging through final exams loaded with square roots, French verb conjugations, poetic onomatopoeia, essays on "Julius Caesar" and--horror of horrors--vocabulary definitions?
That was the fate of many Southeast-area students this week as schools wound down for the long, hot summer vacation, which begins Wednesday. But all the usual techniques--cramming all night, brushing up with Cliff's Notes, etching geometry equations into the desk the day before--were of little help to students in project drafting classes at La Mirada High School.
Theirs was a very eggs-centric eggs-am.
For a final that he called "just a crackup," teacher Jim Wilcox gave each of his first-semester students 16 drinking straws and a roll of cellophane tape. Then he told them to use the straws and tape to design a structure around an egg and drop the whole thing 50 feet off the top of the school stadium.
Grade-A if Egg Doesn't Break
If the egg landed whole, and if students turned in a good drawing of their device, they would receive an A on the exam. They could earn extra credit by throwing their project over the classroom building without breaking the egg, Wilcox said.
Student Georgina Davila, 14, said she "almost died" when she heard about the final exam. She predicted the task would prove impossible because "the straws don't hold that much."
For a week, Georgina and her classmates tinkered with different designs, researched structural ideas in the library, hurled eggs over their homes and begged straws from the local Jack-In-The-Box to test their projects. Wilcox "patented" final ideas in class to discourage copycats.
Students discovered that triangle-shaped designs were strongest and that simply layering tape and straws around the egg did not work. They learned to use tape to reinforce the straws. And they found that they could solve the problem.
One creative student wasted little time on design, instead searching through 27 egg cartons to find the smallest possible egg for his project--a "triple-E size," Wilcox said--under the assumption that the lighter the egg, the softer the fall.
The result of all this mind-stretching was a collection of star-shaped, geodesic and pyramid-like structures built with straws and held in place with cellophane tape around the egg. There were boxes made of straws with the egg inside, elaborate parachutes and gliders designed to ease the fall, and devices that looked like porcupines, baseballs and rockets.
On Wednesday afternoon, seven drafting students held their breath and tossed their projects, one by one, off the top row of the stadium bleachers to the applause--or jeers--of their friends below.
A star-shaped project thrown by Georgina landed with a disconcerting squish.
Not Even Cracked
"Don't look--it made it!" Georgina shouted, as Wilcox stooped to examine the egg.
It was not even cracked.
"Lucky bounce!" a student yelled.
"Oooh, I'm so happy, I got an A," Georgina said.
The secret of this final exam was trial and error, said Kevin Boykin, 14, who was back on the ground after a successful drop.
Clutching a geodesic globe he had built around an egg, Kevin said he thought "the final was pretty hard. I made four of them and it didn't work. I had to make it as light as possible so (the egg) wouldn't break."
In fact, Kevin's class, with no failures, scored the best of all Wilcox's classes this year. Of a total of 40 eggs dropped by his other classes, eight broke upon landing, Wilcox said.
Photos by RICK CORRALES
Los Angeles Times