September 2016 – Vol. 29 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 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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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at 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.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. 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.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” 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.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. 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.