Roller Coaster Math

Roller Coaster Math
Bremen High School Math 2 Teacher, Mr. Peter Cichon was planning a lesson plan for his students dealing with word problems that are popular on the SAT test. While planning, he came across a problem with a roller coaster. Knowing that history teacher Mr. Andrew Rybarczyk is a huge roller coaster fan, Cichon shared the problem with Rybarczyk.

Cichon was curious why the problem was worded so oddly. While he understood what the problem was asking and how to find the answer, he didn't understand why anyone would ever need to find the height of a roller coaster based on the length and depth of a tunnel. It just seemed like something that people wouldn't consider in real life.

Don't engineers just make roller coasters as tall as they want?

Rybarczyk, who has been on 524 roller coasters in his lifetime and who has even been invited to a 6am opening at Cedar Point Amusement Park, was quick to explain to Cichon that some cities such as Chicago have height restrictions for coasters because they consider things like airplanes or air traffic.

He says, "Sometimes the park wants a roller coaster to drop a certain amount of feet, but they find out there is a height restriction. They build the tunnels so that coasters can drop lower without breaking the restriction."

What began as a simple conversation about roller coasters and a math problem, turned into an idea for a collaborative math class focusing on the overall math of a roller coaster.

While Cichon helped students work through the math of several word problems, Rybarczyk explained the history of roller coasters and gave context as to how the problem applied to real-world scenarios.

"Kids really jumped all over it," says Cichon. "It directly tied into what they were learning about and what they are interested in. Most kids love roller coasters."

Math 2 is available to sophomore students across the District. It is the second program offered after Integrated Math which students in District 228 now take as freshmen. Integrated Math, unlike Traditional Math, which teaches concepts like Geometry, Algebra I, and Algebra II in isolation, combines mathematic concepts to help students connect and retain information and prepare for real-life scenarios. Math 2 builds off of the skills students learned in Integrated Math and places a focus on problem-solving skills. These problem-solving skills can often be learned through word problems such as the roller coaster based question Cichon and Rybarczyk worked through with students.
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