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 President for 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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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

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.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). 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.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. 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.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. 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 NGSS 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.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.