January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

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.

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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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