TWO SEMESTER-LONG MECHANICS PROJECTS
Nicholas Park is a long-time Modeling Workshop leader in Dallas, TX. In January 2017, he posted the following to the physics modeling listserv:
Following the Buck Institute Project-Based-Learning model, we have structured our Mechanics curriculum around two major projects, introduced in day one. This then provides the student motivation, the "why do I care" about these models. They also inform our decisions about which smaller parts of the models must be included and which can be omitted as time demands.
The first project is the analysis of an accident scene [collision] to determine information about initial speeds and forces of impact. This motivates student's study of CVPM, CAPM, Balanced and Unbalanced forces, Momentum transfer and Impulse. They can't do most of the work on the project until they've built most of these models, but they know where they are going.
The second project is the design and construction of a roller coaster. This motivates their study of projectiles (for a zero-g hill), energy and circular motion, and also builds on their prior knowledge of the other topics. The "unit test" for each unit in this course is actually related to the project.
Nicholas later wrote this to Jane Jackson:
The roller coaster project is pretty standard (there is one quite similar in the v2 mechanics materials), except that we added the requirement of an extended 0g hill to include projectiles. ... The v2 materials are, to the best of my knowledge, labeled only “v2” on the AMTA site and on the flash drives – they are the original Larry Dukerich materials [i.e., version 2 of the mechanics curriculum: copyright 2006].
We modified the collision project from :
The real magic was using the Buck Institute’s method for introducing the project and using it to guide the trimester. For more on that, see
You can download Nicholas’ two coaster project documents at
Download his adaptation of the collision project (which Michael Haskins worked with him on) at
UPDATE: on Aug. 30, 2018, Nicholas posted to the physics modeling listserv:
I've backpedaled on it this year. Here are my reflections on what I've done and how it has worked.
We teach trimester-long physics electives, and last year we designed each one in a PBL framework, guided by a loose implementation of the Buck Institute's methods.
Not as much voice and choice as I would have liked in the first trimester; it was framed around a car-collision analysis, and everything learned was to tackle some part of that problem, so that we slowly unraveled it by the end of the trimester. For the "top kids", this was great, they were really into it and got a great takeaway. For some others, the level of challenge was too high and the pace was rushed in order to get the project work done, so we didn't spend enough time on basic model-building and conceptual development. This year, we are going back to an optional challenge project at the end of the trimester.
2nd trimester was built around a "safe and exciting" roller coaster design project, again done incrementally as we learned circular motion, energy and projectile motion. This one works very well.
3rd trimester was built to lead up to our musical instrument project. A lot of lead time on stuff that they see is relevant, but it is a long way in until they can actually begin working on the project. Plus materials are expensive. We're backing away from this, probably.
UPDATE: in August 2019, Nicholas Park wrote, “We abandoned this instructional model because it distracted our attention from the more important goal of careful model development and assimilation. Sorry! Doesn't mean it can't be done, just that with our particular time constraints we couldn't do both.”
[Jane’s note: Modelers discuss and link to other engineering and STEM projects, in compilations at http://modeling.asu.edu/listserv2.html .]