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Physics, Science & Math Days
@ California's Great America

Curricular Activities

Contests for 2017

New StanfordOnline Data
2015 Map

First Timers Checklist

Planning Checklist

Frequently Asked Questions

Links (updated 2/16)


Click for PSM website



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.

A Note

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 suggestions.

 Dates for 2017

PSM Day 1

Fri, May 5, 2017

PSM Day 2

Fri, May 12, 2017

PSM Day 3

Fri, May 19, 2017

34th Anniversary!!
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.

Old Logo

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!

Patriot Sign

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!

 New Big Change for 2017 - Accelerometers!

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 DataVests (pdf):

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 Packet.

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 website.

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.

A Resource
The webmaster completed a re-write of the AAPT handbook on Amusement Park Physics in 2011. This second edition contains many very useful items for first timers and old timers alike. You will see references to California's Great America throughout the book including data from some of our rides.

The book is available through AAPT and Vernier Software & Technology.

Physics Day Steering Committee
  August 14, 2017