#thattech Week 4–Roller Coasters

Looking back on my primary and secondary education (in the 90’s), nothing stood out as an exceptional classroom environment that I would want to model in my own professional setting.  I recall unnecessary amounts of lecturing, lengthy video features and un-collaborative work environments.  It was almost as if student collaboration was considered a form of cheating to learn knowledge from the teacher’s perspective.  Don Tapscott points out, “Students need to talk among themselves.  In fact, research has found collaborative learning to be more effective in increasing academic performance” (Tapsott, 2008).  I promote student collaboration in every aspect of my classroom excluding completion of summative assessments.  Not only do the students gain more knowledge, they become more confident in their schoolwork.

Tapscott notes, “It’s not easy.  Letting kids discover for themselves involves a lot of up-front preparation on the part of the teacher” (Tapscott, 2008).  I often overwhelm myself trying to find the newest and most engaging activities for my students.  Some days I’m very successful, and others I hit major roadblocks.  To help reduce this exhaustion I turn to mentors as well as fellow teachers for advice.  These are the people I look up to and whom I want to model my classroom after.  With this, collaboration turns out to be strategic in my individual success.

With our school year finally coming to an end, we always take our entire 8th grade class (500 students) to Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, VA just an hour bus ride away.  They so look forward to this final fieldtrip before their sendoff to high school.  With the theme park in mind, I found a lesson that, although geared for grades 3-5, was technology-based and exemplified the values and methodologies of digital age learners.  The lesson is called Competing Coasters and gives students a chance to explore, predict, and investigate the roller coaster features of speed, height, length and duration.  Students use the website www.joyrides.com to make predictions solely based off pictures of roller coasters and then record their results in a table-like graphic organizer.  Once their predictions are complete, they go to www.rcdb.com which is a statistical roller coaster database for many roller coasters around the world.  Here they verify their predictions and evaluate their estimating abilities.

This lesson is suiting for today’s students because it touches on many aspects of 21st century learning.  Students work collaboratively as they investigate rollercoasters based on pictures alone.  It seems as though students love pictures, especially images of activities they wish to take part in themselves.  Another skill addressed is their critical thinking and data analysis, as they reason through their collection and examination process.  Following these steps, students must use and defend their thinking with factual knowledge gained through their research.  This lesson demonstrates a good balance between mastering objectives with appropriate integration of technology assisting in the process.

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser noted that “we should figure out, instead, how the use of technologies can support our pedagogical goals” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010).  The lesson on roller coasters demonstrates just that.  It keeps students on the edge of their seat by having them research a topic which has them hooked for the entire duration of the lesson.  Any student who has been on a roller coaster absolutely loves to talk about them, and so do adults for that matter.  It’s a unique experience for any thrill seeker.  In Palfrey and Gasser’s final thoughts in chapter 11, they make a good remark with respect to transforming the change to better educate digital age students. “The hard part, during the transition, will be to discern what to preserve about traditional education and what to replace with new, digitally mediated processes and tools” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2010).  It seems evident the content may not change a whole lot, but how and why it’s delivered will make the difference.


Illuminations. (n.d.) Competing Coasters. Retrieved from http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=924 on May 31, 2014.

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2010). Born Digital : Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. New York: McGraw-Hill.