SANDY HOOK, NJ – Physics instructor Jessica Godkin thinks the best way to teach kids about physics is to take them on a roller coaster ride!
And that’s exactly what the junior class at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, did last week when, armed with data sheets, pencils and tools enabling them to measure the force of gravity, they had a hands-on physical understanding of concepts learned with a day’s excursion to Great Adventure.
Students rode several of the 14 coasters at the Jackson amusement park and chose to make all their calculations on the Batman roller coaster. “Most of the students had a general idea as to what g-force to expect at what points on a ride,” said Junior John Lavelle, “but it was interesting to see the readings from the tools prove their hypotheses. G-force is definitely what provides a large part of the thrill, because it’s what causes the feelings of being pushed into or pulled out of your seat when there is more than just the typical 1 G of force you experience every day. More of a force makes you feel heavier and pushed down, less force makes you feel lighter and pulled out of your seat.”
The tools they carried on the ride enabled the students to measure the force of gravity actions on a person’s body during various parts of the ride, such as the top and bottom of the hill and the loop. After their ride, students logged their information on their data sheets and completed the calculations of the potential and kinetic energy of the ride at various points along the track. The added knowledge enabled the students to experience physics in action by going on whichever rides best fitted their desire.
Godkin, who has been a physics teacher at MAST for 19 years, offered the Great Adventure trip to her students for the many years during her tenure, then offered an alternate experience for several years. “This is the first year we did the Great Adventure trip and I was thrilled with how much the students enjoyed and learned from it. The students were excited to test the g force on the ride. They were arguing with each other as they were solving the problem set on "Batman the Ride" and then they worked collectively to take an oral assessment. Now that we are back on campus, the physics classes will complete additional problem solving and discussion. I loved the look on all of their faces as they realized just how much of the physics they understood, and many students said they couldn't help but think about it on the other rides that they went on.”
Students agree. Junior Ryan McCarthy pointed out the rides create a physical understanding of concepts learned in class. “Instead of only having heard about and calculated forces on paper, we have gone out and felt them ourselves, proving not only that the physics occurs in everyday life, but also that the equations and science are relevant and useful no matter how long ago they were discovered and established,” McCarthy said.
“The lab didn't really have us draw specific conclusions, but it did show the way the energy changed from potential at the top of the hill to potential and kinetic at the bottom of the hill and during the loop,” added Alexis Chow.
Students were in general agreement that if anything, their calculations will make them more excited about going on future roller coaster rides, having a better knowledge of how they work and why they produce the thrills that draw thousands to experience them around the world.
Yaseen Zaky, and Joseph Prancl also noted, that in addition to the thrill and the interest of the unique learning experience, “it's always a good thing when you can apply the science you've learned to a real-life situation, especially if you can physically feel the effects of that science as you can on a roller coaster. This experience demonstrated that the physics we're learning is everywhere around us, even when we aren't thinking about it.”