GWA’s 8th Grade Physical Science classes recently presented their scientifically safe roller coasters and theme park designs to a panel of outside experts and GWA 9th grade students posing as potential investors.
GWA Science teacher Danielle Martin explained that her students were given the task of designing a unique, thrilling, and scientifically safe theme park. They worked independently and in groups to develop a business plan, a working roller coaster model, and a theme park mockup. Then, the students created a persuasive and engaging presentation with the hope of convincing the panel of judges to invest in their park.
Mrs. Martin recruited the panel of experts and 9th grade students through the GWA community. Some of the judges had children attending GWA that Mrs. Martin had taught in the past. She also reached out to parents through the GWA Parent Club.
Mrs. Martin said that she regularly tries “to find ways to make projects in science more authentic to students” and that one way to do this “is to provide outside experts that work in the fields we are examining to evaluate projects. Thus, all the adult judges worked in either business, business consulting, engineering, or science. The 9th grade judges were students that I had last year and that did a particularly excellent job on their own projects, and therefore, I felt would be good judges for this year's 8th graders.”
Mrs. Martin hoped that her students learned a lot through this project. One of the lessons this experience taught them is the importance of grit and perseverance. Mrs. Martin explained that, “it can be so frustrating to feel like you've done everything right and have a roller coaster that doesn't work again...and again...and again. Sticking with it and figuring out the cause behind the problem and then changing one small thing, and then another small thing, and then another until it finally makes everything work: that can be such a rewarding experience, and that's how REAL science frequently works.”
She said the project also helped students develop patience and attention to detail. She explained that the students could not “just randomly change a bunch of stuff and hope for the best. They had to have a really strong understanding of potential energy, kinetic energy, momentum, friction, and acceleration to really diagnose where the problem was and why.” Mrs. Martin added that the students also left the project with a renewed appreciation for time management. She said, “we were on a really tight schedule for this project, which made it more important than ever for students to be really focused and use work time to their advantage.”
Mrs. Martin saw the students celebrate when their roller coasters finally worked and they saw their theme parks come together. She required the students to demonstrate that their roller coasters worked successfully at least seven times in a row. She explained that this was “because consistency is important in both science and engineering. I saw some of the biggest smiles after the marble made it to the end that seventh time. One student kept telling me, ‘See, Miss? I'm an engineer!’”
The GWA character trait for the month of March is Fairness, and Mrs. Martin shared some insights into how she ensures class projects and competitions are fair for all her students. She said that part of “being fair is understanding that not all students have access to the same resources (money, language, a readily available car to run errands), so I think having supplies like paper and tubing that students could use for this project helped to create more fair access to materials.” She also said that a fair way to evaluate students is to have a group of judges instead of judging the competition on her own: “sometimes having extra pairs of eyes means catching something that I might otherwise miss.”