Roller Coaster Project Makes Learning Fun

Roller Coaster Project Makes Learning Fun
Posted on 02/13/2020
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architect talking to West studentsWhat’s more fun than riding a roller coaster? How about designing your own coaster?

Students in Caroline Smith’s math class took on that challenge, applying concepts like slope, average and angles to an amusement park.  

“I have always despised math – and now, of all things, I am a math teacher,” said Smith, an intervention specialist at Lakota West. “I learned the hard way that math is tied to ‘real life’ and I am trying to help my students see that math does play a role in their day-to-day lives. It is really cool to see them excited about math.”

West junior Brittany Davis is enjoying the project. “I don’t really like math, but this is making it easier. It’s a different way to learn math."

Three integrated math classes for student with disabilities are working on the roller coaster projects. The project is an example of personalized learning where teachers try new ways to reach students and encourage them to take ownership of their learning.

“I am very hands-off on this project and the students are really stepping up,” said Smith. “It is so neat to watch the problem-solving process take place, especially in a non-structured environment.”

Smith’s students are used to a more structured setting, so the classes have participated in a lot of student ownership activities to help them prepare for the coaster project.

The math preparation part of the project began back in October. Students will be able to identify the average speeds, maximum height, total distance and slopes of their coaster creations.

Smith also challenged her students to come up with a design and theme for their ride, and to build a prototype using marbles and pipe. Senior Jayvyn Jean-Mary is looking forward to “getting the project done, making it perfect, and doing the best I’ve ever done.” His psychedelic-themed ride is called ‘Crazy World.’

Architect Mike Parkinson visited the classes twice this week to help the students understand the design process, problem-solving and accepting failure.

Twenty-five students are developing projects, some independently while others are working in pairs.

Project drawings were shared recently during a gallery walk, where students were able to provide input to their fellow classmates via post-it notes.

“The students provided realistic feedback and perspective to each other – all unprompted,” said Smith.  Each group also created a flipgrid video to pitch and share their coaster ideas. Students in the multiple disabilities classrooms will watch these videos and select a project that they would like to support – and come up with a way to do so. Possibilities include helping to provide amusement park themed food for the project exhibition on March 12, where each group will present their coasters in front of an audience of parents, classmates and staff.

The presentations are another opportunity for learning, says Smith. “Expressive language can be scary for many students.” With practice and preparation, she is confident her students will do a great job on this final part of the project.

Pictured: Architect Mike Parkinson visited the classes twice this week to help the students understand the design process, problem-solving and accepting failure.