World-record displays and college-bound students: Teacher credits domino effect

(CBS News) Have you ever heard the expression, "Smart as a box of dominoes?"

Neither had CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman, but according to Pennsylvania science teacher Bob Speca, there's a lot that you can learn from them.

"So the dominoes that are set up have potential, and as they're falling, they're kinetic," Speca explained to his class. "It's the tributaries and the watersheds that we learned about."

"On the Road" classic: Domino-toppling

Speca loves teaching with dominoes. To help you understand why, you need to travel back to the first time CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt interviewed Speca 29 years ago.

Watch the original "On the Road" report on domino-toppling below.

"Alright, physics 101, the domino theory," Kuralt narrated in the original piece. "Bob Speca scored a world record by setting up and knocking down 111,111 dominoes. He prepared a domino display for us. It is relatively modest, but you may find it diverting."

Believe it or not, before Speca, dominoes were mostly used for playing dominoes. In fact, Guinness didn't even have a domino toppling category until he started it.

Speca's creations were spectacular for their time, but the fad he started quickly raced ahead of him. Soon everyone and their overseas brother was building something bigger and better.

"Your heart sinks a little bit because you want to be on top," Speca said.

For the last 20 years he's been relegated to second-tier domino duties: "Weddings, conventions and bar mitzvahs, the whole deal."

Speca honestly thought he'd never be part of a Guinness record again until he started thinking outside the box -- or rather outside the box spring. Turns out, there's actually a category called "human mattress dominoes," where the mattresses on end (with humans attached) do the dominoes' job. A hotel chain recently hired Speca to coordinate a record breaking attempt of 850 people.

Hartman explained that Guinness gives you three tries to pull off a stunt, but it looked like Speca would do it on his first attempt. Eleven minutes later and when it was done, Speca was at the top once more.

Of course, people will now be falling all over themselves to beat this record. But fortunately, whether Speca realizes it or not, he will always be a champion - mainly because knocking down dominoes pales to raising up kids.

"No other teacher will stay two hours after school just to teach you about dominoes," Joe, one of Speca's students, told CBS News.

Speca mentors an after-school domino club, and some of these kids, like Joe, plan to major in mechanical engineering because of Speca. "That's what kind of helped me along there," Joe said.

Now that's a domino effect.

Watch the original Charles Kuralt report

"On the Road" classic: Domino-toppling

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.