Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ideas to fix an intersection: Physics #PBL learning project

Teacher Note:  As a final project after the seniors graduated, 10th and 11th graders looked at the safety of the back parking lot behind the school.  This area has a tremendous amount of daily traffic,and several fender-benders, as well as a two-vehicle collision, have occurred there in the past year.  Fortunately, no one has been hurt.   We had a variety of opinions as to whether this was due to operator error or safety.  Students went out to observe the locale and made measurements between 10 and 12:45 pm on a school day.

Students then needed to create a physical or digital model, think of sample situations that could happen at the location, and make recommendations as to whether or not the intersection, in their opinion, was safe enough, or if it needed changing.  Their work needed to be scaled and supported by physics equations that demonstrated their understanding of the term.  The project below summarizes their results.

Due to the time frame of the project, we were unable to contact board members or present to school personnel, but student opinions have been forwarded onward.  Verbal discussions indicated common errors were noted (for example, speed limits in a school zone are 25 mph) but not necessarily changed in the videos that were uploaded.  Some calculation errors may be present. 

Google Sketchup Model of Intersection by Gage K.

To Whom It May Concern:

As students of West Delaware High School, we have created a proposition to make the travel around the school a safer environment for students and faculty. We are addressing this to the school board and hope the information provided will be used to conclude whether or not we should redesign this intersection to make it safer.

It has been previously asked if the intersection involving Prospect Street, Sherman Avenue, and the faculty parking lot is unsafe for the school community. After research, we have concluded this intersection poses a threat to the safety of the West Delaware students. Our findings have enabled us to create a list of options to make this intersection a safer place.

Due to the lack of speed limit signs, stop signs, and curbs, it is known that people of the community are moving at speeds higher than fifteen miles per hour in a school zone. This in itself is a threat to students coming to or leaving school by walking or driving in a vehicle. We are addressing this situation to the school board mainly because this intersection is near school property, but it will involve many others in the town of Manchester. The community will also need to address the situation. If costs become unreasonable or more needs to be done, we should also address the rest of the community and town officials to ask for financial help.

When we study a situation such as this and find we need to make a change, there are costs involved. Our current plan is to add an 80 foot curb along the faculty lot connecting the lot to Prospect. Our research suggests this curb will cost between 350 and 400 dollars. Other calculations are still in the process to find additional costs.

Multiple concerns with this intersection directly affect the school community.

  • Last fall, an accident involving two students occurred at this intersection. After speaking with students, many complain of low visibility of this intersection. 
  • The main concern is difficulty seeing cars driving on Prospect Street from the stop sign on Sherman Avenue. 
  • We are concerned a crash with more physical and community impact may occur here if nothing is done to review the safety of this intersection. It may take many years for this accident to occur, but we believe it is important to look at this as a hazard to safety now, and then decide whether or not something should be done to create a more protected intersection. 
  • Summer break begins soon, which means there will be significantly less people using this area and it could be the best time to reconstruct this intersection. 

We hope you will review the information and decide whether or not this intersection should be changed. As students, we understand that this intersection could be deemed “safe,” but we want to be sure this intersection is “safe enough.” 


Team B

Is this the BEST project-based learning effort ever?  Perhaps not, because our presentations were videotaped, rather than presented to the administration and board.  But it IS timely, relevant, based on real-world data, and filled with application.  And to my students, who asked me to forward on our data to the superintendent/grounds people/school board for safety reasons, perhaps it was the best way for them to use their ideas, talents, and abilities to remember that physics can matter.

It is my hope that the someone in the District will take some time this summer/fall to look at the intersection between 7:45 and 8:15 in the morning, as well as between 2:50-3:20 in the afternoon.

Signs and curbs may be the result of this process, and we can certainly put a dollar sign upon them, but the fact that students can do a critical analysis bodes well for their futures.  What will you do as you reflect and plan for next year to help your students with new ideas?  The answer to that, of course, may well be priceless.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. I have a vision of an open-ended physics project/process that lets students apply some element of their acquired knowledge to solve a problem in the community. Actually, I'd like to let a problem in the community be a motivation for students to what to learn the physics content. Actually... as I type I have the idea to start writing physics problems that are about youth working to improve their communities.

    Thanks for the post.