Four students holding their amusement park project

The “Loop Law Roller Coaster,” “Tower Supreme,” and “Federal Palace,” are just some of the attractions in the amusement park project designs by Pennington Traditional School students. What is more unique though is that students had the choice of completing the project or taking a unit test to demonstrate their knowledge.

The rides at amusement parks are an excellent resource for teaching science. However, the layout of the parks is the inspiration for a summative unit project in Erin Merrill’s eighth-grade civics class at Pennington Traditional. Merrill often uses end-of-unit projects to help students review material, but this was the first time she offered students the choice. Students could either design an amusement park with themed sections and connections representing the branches and levels of government or take a unit test.

For eighth graders, content about branches and levels of the government is the basis of over half the Virginia state Standards of Learning (SOL) eight grade history and social science test. With this in mind, Merrill does not want to just rely on the results of a summative unit test to determine if her students understand the material.

“For students who struggle with tests, offering the choice to complete a project is a great alternative. However, some  students  are highly successful at standardized tests. So, I decided instead of doing one or the other, I would let the students decide which one would be the best option for them to demonstrate mastery,” she explained.

“I like drawing and coloring, so this project was adapted to my comfort level,” Clarissa Medrano explained. “I think this project helped me learn because we had to research the branches, then figure out three amusement park rides, stores, or games that show what each part does and how they are connected,” she added.

The park layout of Busch Gardens, where each section represents a county, is the inspiration for “United Land,” the amusement park created by Clarissa’s group.

“Constitution World,” the imaginary park created by Brandon Albers’ group, is a mix between Walt Disney World and Busch Gardens. Brandon explained, “It was pretty cool to have a choice because people have different ways of learning, and having options is helpful in our education,”he added. “Honestly, working on something physical will help the lessons “stick” in my head more than a test. I better understand what the branches and levels do because we had to create a section of the park that clearly showed each one. If we were unsure about something, we did more research to ensure it was correct.”

Merrill explained the positive results, “In the quarter reflection, students raved about having had that choice and hoped they would be able to do it again. The average score for all students, regardless of the summative, was a 91%.”

The results provided Merrill with an understanding of how well her students understand the content. She will use this information to plan what students need to review to better prepare  for the SOL test.