These are a series of questions asked by a teacher bringing his students to Physics Day for the first time. The webmaster responded to the inquiry, and is publishing the answers here for everyone to review. As always, comments are welcome, as are additional questions that we can help you answer in advance of the actual event.

Q Do students at the park have and use the homemade vertical and lateral accelerometers with them?

A Most schools show up with some form of the vertical and lateral accelerometers. Most buy from PASCO, a few from CENCO, and the rest make their own. Yes, students use them and need to use them to get any sort of mathematical values to work with. This is a lab activity, not one where people are merely spectators.

Q Will the plastic tube vertical (with spring or rubberband) and the 'protractor' triangulation tool (with a hanging weight) will be adequate enough for measuring vertical and lateral acceleration and estimating height ? Any Suggestions?

A Yes. The values have to be trusted within the limits of the instruments you are using. You don't have a surveyer's transit, for example. A good first approximation may be what you get on the rubber band version of the accelerometer, but it gets them inside the ballpark. A protractor version can give within 5% of heights if used carefully.

There are SPOTS in the park where the baseline distance is known and posted to various parts of the rides. The Drop Tower spot is next to Psycho Mouse where you can see both the top and bottom of the ride clearly. Others are similarly located. See the park map for specific locations.

Students should also be able to measure off horizontal distance using their pace. Mark out 10-m lengths at school and have them walk them. From this they can determine their pace length and then can use that to measure, for example, the diameter of Orbit.

The 2-3 pages of Measurement at the Park are usually copied into materials we give our students so they will know how to take measurements when they are at the park. We also have a day when we go over the process at school prior to going.

Q I heard that you have accelerometers to be checked out--

How long can students use them?
Which rides can they be used on?
What should students do to insure that they have this opportunity?

A We'll be at the Gazebo near the Vortex from around 10:00 to 2:00 most days. Students must leave us something of value - credit card or drivers license - in order to check out one of the units. These need to be rotated frequently in order to meet the demand we anticipate. One to two rides per group is all we can support.

Rides: All of the rides except the water rides. Those can be done if the group requests or provides a sealed plastic bag.

Think about them getting nice measurements on part of a ride rather than imprecise measurements over a whole ride. We are using WDSS units now, which can gather more than 1000 data points. When and where to gather data on a ride may be the best questions for students to ask.

Q I would like to avoid taking our TI calculators,,,what do you reccommend?

A If you want the students to do any calculations, they will need a calculator. A small carrying bag (think zip-lock) can handle both the measuring instruments and the calculator for security, and keep their worksheets water proof. They could get away with a 4-function calculator for the most part. Anything more complex they could do at home or back at school.

Q Will students gather their own data for the various rides?

A We furnish a set of data from the rides to teachers on the CD. This can be used as a check on what the students get in their work. We don't provide all the numbers, heights, weights, speeds. Students need to be able to estimate and do their own mathematics. We don't recommend handing this information out to your class.

Q I've heard that there are information tables/booths set up in the park .. no info provided in the booklet sent to me

  • What are they?
  • Where are they?
  • How should I prepare my students?

A We're not sure how many help tables will be around from year-to-year. In the past, we've had students from SJS, Hayward State, etc. who had a table with some demos. They help out a lot, but were less than perfect on their physics, being students themselves.

Make sure your students have a map with them, and if you want them to meet somewhere at some time, then they'll know where it is. I recommend that you have them check in with you (within a 30-40 minute period) sometime during the late morning. Meeting place at your discretion, but I recommend one where there's shade.

Q We have a short day 9:00 to 2:00. How many activities would be realistic?

A I would think in terms of having them do a great job on 2 rides while at the park. There are two other items: one for on the way to the park "Conscious Commuting" and the other called "Where in the Park". This gives a total of 4 items for them to contemplate, these latter two which can be done while going to or returning from the park.

Q Are certain rides to be attempted early?

A Biggest lines are the big coasters - Flight Deck has the longest lines, generally. Demon is pretty fast. Drop Tower gets long, too. It's a great ride to get data, and the operation is sweet. It's short, though, 45 seconds tops from start to finish.

Q I want to help make this a successful learning experience for my students, in hopes that I can generate parent support for future year's trips. Any other advice you can give a novice?

A Don't expect to be perfect on the first outing. Learn what works for you and your students, and then build that in for next year. Don't have them do too much, but expect them to do quality work and hold them to it.

Q Who should I contact at the park?

A Contact Special Interest Groups. Their information is given here:

Special Interest Groups
c/o Suzie Mendoza

2401 Agnew Road
Santa Clara, CA 95054
phone: (408) 986-5984

Physics Day Steering Committee
January 2012