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Physics, Science & Math Days
Imagine 10,000 students at California's Great America,
armed with worksheets, calculators and accelerometers,
all taking part in one of the largest physics lab
activities in the world - Amusement Park Physics.
Where can the experimenter step into the experiment and
subject him/herself to forces in excess of 3 G's? Where
can they experience zero-G and live to tell the tale?
Where can they verify the PHYSICS they've been learning
all year long? Where else but at California's Great
America on Physics, Science, and Math Days.
Students at California's Great America have access to
one of the world's largest laboratories for carrying our
real-world science experiments. While on the rides, they
experience a dizzying array of forces. Where did they
feel which kind of force? And ultimately, why did they
feel those particular forces there?
The beauty of Physics, Science and Math Days
lies in linking classroom theory with the reality of
what happens on multiple-g rides like Vortex and Drop
Tower. We encourage teachers to prepare their students
to make the most out of the opportunity that is present
at Physics, Science and Math Days. Choose
quality activities that will engage them and help them
to learn more about the science behind their amusement
park experience. That is why we've prepared this website
that is jam-packed with activities, hints, tips and
A Brief History
Physics Day at Great America was started in 1983 by Don
Rathjen from Foothill High School. Initially, he brought
his physics students to the park on a normal operating
day. In the second year, he brought three other teachers
and their physics students to Great America, armed with
accelerometers and calculators to study the physics
behind roller coasters.
Over the years, Physics Day grew until the park opened
up on a non-operating day, exclusively for physics
students. The number of students grew, and the number of
middle school science students attending the park had
also grown. Two separate days were scheduled, one for
high school physics, the other for middle school
science. In 1995, a third day was added to accommodate
math students who explore applications of mathematics in
the real world.
Physics Day, now Physics, Science & Math Days,
has been in continuous operation since 1983. It's one of
the only special days of its type where the park is open
just for students and teachers for educational purposes.
33 years and going strong!
A steering committee of physics, science and math
teachers has developed materials that are published for
students and teachers, including these resources for
teachers and students. The committee worked closely with
the park to improve these special days, and conducted an
annual Teacher Orientation. The Special Events
Department at California's Great America works hard to
make these days a success for teachers and students from
throughout Northern California and as far north as
British Columbia, Canada.
What is going to be new in 2017?
Many people will be sad to learn that Vortex
will no longer be in operation at California's Great
America. In it's place, a new ride called Patriot
will be in operation. While you needed to stand during Vortex,
Patriot will be a sitdown ride. But there will not
be a floor under the riders' feet!
As soon as we can put together a comprehensive worksheet
for Patriot, it will get posted. Hint: It's the
same track but sitting down instead of standing up. So
many of your worksheets will still be applicable.
Other changes may be put into place for PSM Days in 2017.
Check back here for details.
Updated listing of the contests is now online.
Some slight changes were implemented and the
2017 rules are now online.
Some contests and activities will not be in
operation for 2017. Gone will be Fantastic Four, DNA
Isolation and the Trebuchet contest. Check the updated Contest page.
We have added Paper Tower as a Contest, although it
is more like an Interactive Activity.
We are going to do a trial run of a new
event called "Regatta @ Boomerang Lagoon". This
event will be held on May 12 only. Click on the
Contests link to learn more about it. Bring your
sailboat to compete and win prizes!
Big Change for 2017
Note: The park specifically permits the
use of measuring devices for determining accelerations and
forces on the rides. The devices, manual or electronic,
must be tethered to the student
or they will not be allowed on rides. However, a recent
decision was made to permit use of the vests sold by
Vernier Software & Technology and Pasco Scientific.
Follow the link above for some tethering suggestions. Or
follow the link that follows to learn how you can use your
Many years past, Great America printed out a packet of
activities, shrink-wrapped it and distributed it with the
tickets sent to schools in the spring. Subsequently, the
entire packet was converted to electronic form and
available on a CD that was distributed with the school's
tickets. Now the entire packet is online and available by
following the "Curricular Activities" link above left, or
by clicking on this link: Activity
If you have an activity that you've developed for PSM
Days, and would like to share it with other teachers and
students, please attach it and send it to the webmaster.
Credit will be given for ideas that are included on this
By the way, NBC has published a website on the science
behind many Winter Olympics events. Check out the video on
Halfpipe and you'll see some of the same reasoning as that
behind the shape of vertical loops on roller coasters.