At the Great Barrier Reef at California’s Great America, teams of students built boats from cardboard and duct tape. Next, some students raced each other by getting onto their boats and paddling across the water. The theme park’s Physics, Science & Math Days occurred on three Fridays in May, with the park closed to the general public on these days. On May 12, thousands of students of all grades from all over Northern California came to experience hands-on learning with the thrill of a theme park backdrop.
“Today is about combining fun and learning at the park; it’s about teaching kids to go outside their boundaries,” said Roger Ross, public relations manager of California’s Great America. “The boat race is straight engineering for the kids: How can they assemble something that would support their weight yet maintain their buoyancy and remain water tight?”
In the Great America Pavilion, entries for the Model Roller Coaster Contest sat on long tables waiting to be judged. Themes included a Western saloon with horses, cowboys and cowgirls; a Lilo and Stitch beach theme with Hawaiian flowers decorating the tracks; and a candy theme with packaged sweets supporting the tracks.
At the Celebration Plaza, representatives from Santa Clara’s Mathnasium and San Jose’s Peach Blossom School mingled with the public. At an activity station, students shaped small boats from foil and counted the pennies it took to sink their boat inside a tub of water.
“[The buoyancy challenge] is about weight distribution. You can take the same amount of weight and it might sink one boat but not the other. It gets into that fine line of where the pennies are placed,” said Ross.
At another activity station, students used balloons, straws, sand and tape to assemble Mars landers. The goal was to create a contraption that would protect and cushion a raw egg through a drop. These Mars Landers ended up inside the bucket of a cherry picker and were released at 20 feet. Students clapped, groaned and gasped as their Mars landers dropped to the ground. Suspense ensued as they waited to hear whether their egg remained intact after the drop.
“My students are building a house for an egg,” said Sara Engelman, a sixth grade teacher at C.W. Dillard School in the Elk Grove Unified School District. “It’s a gravity project. The trick is you don’t want it too heavy or too light. You need the perfect weight for the Mars lander to safely travel to the ground. We practiced making these at school so students have some sort of idea of what works and what doesn’t.”