Learning That Works
It’s a Wild Ride is an interdisciplinary project that creates a learning environment in which students learn and apply core academic content, find and evaluate useful information, engage in a design process, and communicate information for a purpose. The project finds a balance between student-directed exploration of the high interest topic and academic rigor of each discipline. The project is organized in five phases that generate and apply knowledge about design principles of roller coasters.
In the first phase, students access prior knowledge about roller coasters. It begins with a short team assembly in the school auditorium. The teachers perform a humorous skit to introduce the main topics for the unit and announce the culminating activity- a team roller coaster design challenge. A parent/student letter is handed out with a calendar and description of the unit and major due dates for each class. Following the assembly, students attend each subject area class and begin project-related activities.
In Phase Two, students investigate content-specific skills and knowledge. Students develop researching skills in social studies, technical reading and writing in language arts, and conduct experiments in math and science that build understanding about force and the laws of motion.
Phase Three activities expand students’ knowledge of roller coaster design with research and further experimenting related to roller coasters from investigations. Students use their knowledge as they engage in mini architect (math), engineer (science), public relations (language arts) and researcher (social studies) tasks that prepare them for the culminating project in Phase Five.
In Phase Four, students apply new knowledge to the design and construction of a roller coaster model. They design and build a four-element roller coaster using their mini architect and engineer experience. This is facilitated in math and science only and is primarily an at-home project. Phase Three work continues in social studies and language arts classrooms.
In the final phase, students contribute to a group roller coaster design proposal to save the Canyon Amusement Park from bankruptcy. Regular schedules and classes are abandoned as students take on one of four jobs on the design team: engineering, architecture, research, or public relations. The teachers form design teams and hand out the Red Book, the group task organizer during these roller coaster “split” days.
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.