September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

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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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

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

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.