Playland opens for the season this Saturday (May 6), but Jim Weise and a couple thousand local students got to play around on the rides a few days early.
The 30th anniversary of the amusement park’s science and physics program was celebrated on Tuesday (May 2), and that meant a multitude of measurements involving gravity, centripetal force and other calculations.
Weise, a retired Surrey school teacher, was there once again, this time to be honoured for his work to create the internationally-recognized program, launched in 1987 with a few hundred students.
Today, at events held during the months of May and October, that number has swelled to tens of thousands of students seeking to understand the physics of the Corkscrew, Crazy Beach Party, the Coaster and other rides.
All that hands-on learning still excites Weise, who taught at Princess Margaret, Lord Tweedsmuir and Clayton Heights secondary schools before he retired two years ago.
“It’s always a fun event and whenever I go, I see a lot of friends, a lot of teachers, and we get together once a year for amusement park physics,” Weise, a longtime Langley resident, told the Now-Leader.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that Weise misses teaching.
“I miss the energy you get back from the high school kids – it’s just incredible, you know,” he said. “That’s a tough thing to miss, although now that I’ve had a stroke, it makes it doubly difficult.”
Weise loved amusement parks as a kid growing up in Denver, Colorado.
“The city had two amusement parks, so they were the places to go in the summer – one park or the other, we were there,” he remembered.
Later, he was inspired to launch a science program for students at an amusement park in California, where he taught for a period of time.
“The idea of using the amusement park for lessons like this was started by a woman (who) worked for the Houston Science Museum,” Weise elaborated. “She was running a summer science camp for elementary students, with a focus on space and space travel, and so she wanted to show kids everything space travel would involve – you know, whether it’s high G forces at takeoff or weightlessness in space.
“She came up with the idea of using an amusement park for all that,” Weise continued, “and she did a presentation at a conference. A bunch of us physics teachers were sitting at the back and said, ‘That’s so cool, we got to do this.’… When my family moved up here, to the Vancouver area, I was very happy to find that they had an amusement park, so I went to the people at Playland, described the idea, and it went from there.”
Similar science programs now operate at amusement parks around the world, and Weise is credited with being among the ground-breakers.
At Playland, students self-navigate their way through the park for a day of learning and fun. More than 100,000 students from across B.C. have taken part in the program since the late-1980s, and nearly 2,000 more were at the park on Tuesday.
A permanent plaque saluting Weise has been installed where the Music Express ride stands, according to PNE boss Michael McDaniel.
“This was all his brainchild, and you could tell he was excited to be here,” McDaniel told the Now-Leader following the ceremony on Tuesday. “And although he’s a retired teacher now, he’s still a teacher at heart and he likes to be around young people to be able to educate them on science in a unique way.”
Weise’s daughter was at Tuesday’s event, McDaniel said, as was an instructor who went through the Playland science program as a kid and has returned there with his own students.
“That’s neat to see,” McDaniel said. “A lot of kids today were just excited to be out of class on such a sunny day in Vancouver, to do their studies at Playland, but I think they all got that the reason they were able to be there, 30 years ago somebody had a bright idea that ended up becoming a great idea.”
New at Playland this year are family rides called Bug Whirled, Dizzy Drop and The Flutterbye. Admission to the park is free for kids under three years of age, and the Pacific Adventure mini-golf course is now free with admission. For more details, visit PNE.ca.
In related news, PNE officials announced last week that the annual summer fair will continue to be held during the final two weeks of August, following a review of a possible move to dates in July.
-Tom Zillich / Surrey Now-Leader