It may seem like an impossible task, but a group of sixth grade kids are building a working amusement park with K’NEX. They are using their math skills to complete the project. James W Parker Middle School, the sixth graders in Christopher Triola’s class are learning basics of algebra and geometry, but view their ongoing class project as engineering. For the past ten years, students have been building the General McLane Amusement Park, a miniature working amusement park with 60 rides made entirely of  K’Nex parts.

When the project began a decade ago, it included only 12 rides.  Now there are three mega-coasters, water rides, and solar powered rides.  The entire sixth grade is testing the rides this year, as well as designing and building them.

According to Triola, the main idea is to show students how math skills can be used in a real application, while having fun. All rides are required to operate hands free for two continuous hours.  This rule sometimes results in a long process of trial and error.

“A big part of it is failure,” Triola tells his students. “It’s a possibility, but don’t give up.”

Rides include a drop tower, a Ferris wheel, and bumper cars.  Students consider cost, safety and other issues when designing the ride, as well as how much space it takes up and how many riders can ride in a given period. They also write a brochure about the ride they helped build

“This represents all the frustrations of a real park,” Triola said. “The kids will work for hours on the park and one little thing will prevent it from working. It could be a part being 2 mm off.”

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