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Student and rollercoasterIt's A Wild Ride - Learning that Works
"We like hands-on activities but we do not always find them 'minds-on' or applicable. We wanted something that was fun and rewarding for students that contained rigorous, applicable skillsa high-interest unit that required students to apply math concepts in a science context."
Theresa Maves

Request for Proposals

The owners of the Canyon Amusement Park
are seeking proposals for a new roller coaster ride. This coaster must thrill riders young and old with unique design features that incorporate the best in safety and engineering while providing an unforgettable experience.

It's no secret that the Canyon Amusement Park is in desperate need of a new high-interest ride that will increase attendance. Our goal is to attract roller coaster fans from near and far. The future of our local theme park rides on your ingenuity.

We will accept proposals in eight weeks. Complete proposal criteria available upon request serious inquiries only.

The Management, Canyon Amusement Park
T. Maves, M. Harris, J. Whitesell

With this challenge to save the local theme park, the stage is set for 160 eighth grade students at O'Leary Junior High. It is the culminating task of an eight-week, high-interest roller coaster design project. And they are ready!

Student coaster drawing

The It's a Wild Ride Project

It's a Wild Ride is an extended interdisciplinary project that studies roller coaster design in science, mathematics, and language arts classrooms. Students learn and apply laws of motion, linear equations, and technical reporting. As the eight-week project unfolds they move from learning content-specific knowledge and skills to applying what they learn in a group design task. Ultimately, students must convince the theme park to accept their group's design through persuasive presentations.

The Process: Generating Knowledge

The project is organized in five phases that generate knowledge about design principles of roller coasters:

Phase 1: Accessing
prior knowledge about roller coasters.
Phase 2: Investigating content-specific skills and knowledge with experiments in math and science that build understanding about force and the laws of motion.
Phase 3: Expanding knowledge of roller coaster design with research and further experimenting related to roller coasters.
Phase 4: Applying new knowledge to the design and construction of a roller coaster model.
Phase 5: Contributing knowledge to a group roller coaster design in one of four careers: engineering, architecture, research, or public relations.


Phase One: Accessing Prior Knowledge

Students participating in class
Students reenact
the feeling of roller coaster forces.

The project begins in science with a video that features the top 20 roller coasters. The video initiates a discussion and prompts students to think about their own experiences with the motion and forces experienced on amusement park rides. Students then write a science journal entry in response to the following:
  1. Describe the experiences you have had at amusement parks.
  2. What are your favorite and least favorite rides? Why?
  3. Describe the forces and motion you experience while on these rides.

Phase Two: Investigating to Build Foundation Knowledge

Students conduct many experiments in both science and mathematics classes, establishing underlying concepts and skills and meeting content area requirements. Complete lists of the activities follow.

  Phase Three: Expanding Knowledge

Student working on computer

At this point, students begin connecting underlying principles (force, motion, and linear equations) with roller coaster design.
Students work in a computer lab using the Internet to research coaster information. They build a database of useful coaster sites and practice designing successful roller coasters using online simulations.
Math: Students build track and begin to test their ideas related to mathematics in roller coaster motion. In one investigation, they use computer-based motion detectors and graphing software.
  Phase Four: Applying Knowledge

Large student coaster model

It's time to take all this new knowledge and pent-up excitement about loops, batwings, and camelbacks and make something! The students receive a home project assignment: use inexpensive materials to build a coaster that has at least three coaster design features and meets the criteria. Students have two weeks to complete the task. They keep a journal of their processdates, time spent, materials cost, challenges, and solutions. Students use a scoring rubric at home to determine if they met the criteria or need to redesign. Then they bring the finished roller coaster models to school for the performance assessment, conducted in both the mathematics and science classrooms.
  Phase Five: Contributing Knowledge

Student group working

Testing with the Photogate

By the final phase, students are well-prepared to work in teams designing the ultimate roller coaster ride and presenting a persuasive proposal to the Canyon Amusement Park.

Science: Students are divided into groups of four and will choose their role after learning about careers related to amusement parks.

After reviewing the tasks and responsibilities for each of four roles, students discuss and decide who is best suited to be the architect, the engineer, the researcher, and the public relations director. They receive a guide that describes the various roles and responsibilities of each role. Math: Students determine velocity and acceleration of cars going through roller coaster elements using photogates. Language Arts: Students learn research skills in the context of preparing for their presentation: narrowing a topic, writing a thesis statement, and reviewing how to use the Reader's Guide for finding periodicals.

Students celebrating!
Students celebrate force and motion in memorable ways!

Wild, wet ride!

Celebrating Success
The final event is a field trip that is directly connected to It's a Wild Ride. Students and teachers travel to Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah and they test what they know about rides first-hand. The field trip information went home to parents at the first of the project and they filled the buses. Students had an assignment to complete five tasks, including a final journal entry on the bus ride home.
  Unit Objectives: Defining Learning Goals
  When planning the project, the teaching team developed a set of general objectives for each content area, technology skills, and teamwork and design. They also categorized each as introducing (I), Practicing (P), or Mastery (M).

Student working

Content Standards
The teachers also aligned more specific daily objectives to the Idaho State Standards and Benchmarks.
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