May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

California Road Trip – An Activity for 8th Grade Science

Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2011

by Lisa Hegdahl

California Science Content Standard 1c for 8th Grade states: “Students know how to solve problems involving distance, time, and average speed.” After years of teaching the basic calculations, and tired of word problems, I designed an activity that gives students independent practice while at the same time providing them with an engaging activity. There is probably a faster way to do what I did using current technology, but reading the steps I took will guide you to create the handouts by whatever method you would like. On the old Automobile Association of America California road map, there is a smaller map that shows just the main roads in California (and part of Nevada). Between the cities, which are designated by large dots, two numbers are written on the roads – one for the distance and one for the estimated driving time. I photo-copied and enlarged the mileage map so it fit an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper and I used white out to cover up the estimated driving times replacing them with average driving speeds.








I decided on some guidelines for the ‘road trip’ and made a grid for students to keep a record of their destinations and travel calculations. For guided practice, my students and I complete one leg of the trip together. We all start in Sacramento and ‘drive’ to Bakersfield. Students look at their maps and read me the numbers for our calculations. Below are the instructions showing the part of the chart I fill in with them. (Note: on my example in my class, I show the calculations in the boxes. I have left them out here to save space.)

Travel Activity

Instructions: You are taking a road trip!!! You may travel anywhere indicated on the California/Nevada map as long as you follow the simple guidelines that are listed below.

  1. 1. Your road trip must consist of 4 legs; the first leg beginning in Sacramento.
  2. 2. At least two of the legs must cover a minimum of 250 miles (North/South or East/West).
  3. 3. Your road trip must take you into Nevada at least once.
  4. 4. Clearly mark your map with your chosen route.
  5. 5. Average the speed limits for each leg to calculate average speed.
  6. 6. Use the average speed and the distance traveled to calculate the time.
  7. 7. Show all your work.
  8. 8. Round all numbers to the nearest tenth place.
  9. 9. Clearly mark your map with each leg and attach it to your worksheet.









The example is left on the white board while students work so they can refer to it during independent practice. Students trace the route they take on the map, cut it out along with the worksheet, paste them onto construction paper, and post them in the room.

Student engagement is high during this activity. Conversations about where they are ‘driving’ fill the room as they read their maps and work with the numbers to finish their calculations.

I’m confident that you and your students will also find it enjoyable and worthwhile.

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and CSTA’s middle school director.

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Written by Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl

Lisa Hegdahl is an 8th-grade science teacher at McCaffrey Middle School in Galt, CA and is Past-President of CSTA.

5 Responses

  1. Please convert or use metric units.

    Thank you

  2. Great idea! (PS. Fix the time units in your example!)

  3. Sounds great and meaningful. I will try to use it when we study Motion and Speed.

    Thank you. Have a great year!

  4. I love this concept! I am reworking the lesson right now to suit my location and needs, such as adding a requirement that each leg have non-freeway miles included (to prevent the slackers from slacking!)

    My only real concern is this statement, “Average the speed limits for each leg to calculate average speed.” We have to be careful with this at the 8th grade level, because depending on exactly what is being done here, this could promote common misconceptions. In my class, almost every students thinks that the average speed is an average of all the speeds. Unless we are using calculus, this is not true. For example, if I travel 100km at 100 km/hr and 100 km at 50km/hr, that is not an average speed of 75km/hr, but 67km/hr. I would never have my students average a series of speeds for any reason.

  5. Thanks for the tip about average speed. I will make the edit so I don’t contribute to misconceptions. As far as converting to metric… I do use metric regularly with my students, but for this activity I do think miles and miles per hour are appropriate. They are using a California State map, mileage and speeds in California are not typically shown in metric.
    I believe it is more true to the students’ experience to keep it as is. Certainly those who would like to make the conversions will do so.

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CSTA Annual Conference Early Bird Rates End July 14

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Jessica Sawko

Teachers engaged in workshop activity

Teachers engaging in hands-on learning during a workshop at the 2016 CSTA conference.

Don’t miss your chance to register at the early bird rate for the 2017 CSTA Conference – the early-bird rate closes July 14. Need ideas on how to secure funding for your participation? Visit our website for suggestions, a budget planning tool, and downloadable justification letter to share with your admin. Want to take advantage of the early rate – but know your district will pay eventually? Register online today and CSTA will reimburse you when we receive payment from your district/employer. (For more information on how that works contact Zi Stair in the office for details – 916-979-7004 or

New Information Now Available On-line:

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Goodbye Outgoing and Welcome Incoming CSTA Board Members

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Jill Grace

Jill Grace, CSTA President, 2017-2019

On July 1, 2017 five CSTA members concluded their service and four new board members joined the ranks of the CSTA Board of Directors. CSTA is so grateful for all the volunteer board of directors who contribute hours upon hours of time and energy to advance the work of the association. At the June 3 board meeting, CSTA was able to say goodbye to the outgoing board members and welcome the incoming members.

This new year also brings with it a new president for CSTA. As of July 1, 2017 Jill Grace is the president of the California Science Teachers Association. Jill is a graduate of California State University, Long Beach, a former middle school science teacher, and is currently a Regional Director with the K-12 Alliance @ WestEd where she works with California NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative districts and charter networks in the San Diego area.

Outgoing Board Members

  • Laura Henriques (President-Elect: 2011 – 2013, President: 2013 – 2015, Past President: 2015 – 2017)
  • Valerie Joyner (Region 1 Director: 2009 – 2013, Primary Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Mary Whaley (Informal Science Education Director: 2013 – 2017)
  • Sue Campbell (Middle School/Jr. High Director: 2015 – 2017)
  • Marcus Tessier (2-Year College Director: 2015 – 2017)

Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Finding My Student’s Motivation of Learning Through Engineering Tasks

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Huda Ali Gubary and Susheela Nath

It’s 8:02 and the bell rings. My students’ walk in and pick up an entry ticket based on yesterday’s lesson and homework. My countdown starts for students to begin…3, 2, 1. Ten students are on task and diligently completing the work, twenty are off task with behaviors ranging from talking up a storm with their neighbors to silently staring off into space. This was the start of my classes, more often than not. My students rarely showed the enthusiasm for a class that I had eagerly prepared for. I spent so much time searching for ways to get my students excited about the concepts they were learning. I wanted them to feel a connection to the lessons and come into my class motivated about what they were going to learn next. I would ask myself how I could make my class memorable where the kids were in the driver’s seat of learning. Incorporating engineering made this possible. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the California NGSS k-8 Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Unveils Updated Recommended Literature List

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson unveiled an addition of 285 award-winning titles to the Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list.

“The books our students read help broaden their perspectives, enhance their knowledge, and fire their imaginations,” Torlakson said. “The addition of these award-winning titles represents the state’s continued commitment to the interests and engagement of California’s young readers.”

The Recommended Literature: Prekindergarten Through Grade Twelve list is a collection of more than 8,000 titles of recommended reading for children and adolescents. Reflecting contemporary and classic titles, including California authors, this online list provides an exciting range of literature that students should be reading at school and for pleasure. Works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and drama to provide for a variety of tastes, interests, and abilities. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy:

Teaching Science in the Time of Alternative Facts – Why NGSS Can Help (somewhat)

Posted: Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn

The father of one of my students gave me a book: In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood by Walt Brown, Ph. D. He had heard that I was teaching Plate Tectonics and wanted me to consider another perspective. The book offered the idea that the evidence for plate tectonics could be better understood if we considered the idea that beneath the continent of Pangaea was a huge underground layer of water that suddenly burst forth from a rift between the now continents of Africa and South America. The waters shot up and the continents hydroplaned apart on the water layer to their current positions. The force of the movement pushed up great mountain ranges which are still settling to this day, resulting in earthquakes along the margins of continents. This had happened about 6,000 years ago and created a great worldwide flood. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.