- Associated Press - Sunday, January 24, 2016

ROCK FALLS, Ill. (AP) - No angles went uninspected. All funnels were fully affixed. Loop-de-loops were secured. Meanwhile, students put the finishing creative touches on their roller-coasters Jan. 6 in Laurel Darby’s eighth-grade science class at Rock Falls Middle School.

Marbles tore down the paper thrill rides, sometimes surprisingly hopping an end of one track and landing on another, and sometimes flying off the track altogether and bouncing on tables and floors, sending group members scrambling to corral their translucent coaster cars.

If it were simply about physics, the second-quarter assessment would be as simple as, say, an apple falling on your head.

But staying on track came down to teamwork.

“You have to try to agree on something, and you have to learn to compromise,” her teammate, Erin Daub, also 13, said. “If you can’t agree, everyone will get mad, and the project won’t get done at all.”

Even something as simple as deciding how much tape to use to mend the track could be a point of contention. Daub asked Lindsley to help her out with a few strips, but reminded her not to overdo it, because aesthetics will be a factor when their project is graded today.

Their coaster was the only one that screamed its theme - “The Walking Dead,” complete with images from the AMC series, blackened zombie dolls and, of course, red splatter.

“We had to bring in some paint to make it look real, and authentic,” Lindsley said.

Scotch tape roller coaster carcasses were scattered around the room, as teams ran time trials, made adjustments, then ran more trials. Chief among their goals during the couple of weeks they’ve been working on the project is to keep the marble on the track as long as possible. For every second it’s on there, they get a point, and 30 are possible.

Chief among Darby’s goals is to get her students to fully grasp the relationship between potential and kinetic energy - as a team.

“They’re from the Google generation, where they might think they can go online to find anything,” the sixth-year teacher in the school said. “They can find trivial knowledge, but can you apply that knowledge to something? Can you work as a team to troubleshoot and problem-solve?”

Each team’s group members rotated through four roles each day: team leader, note-taker, norm-enforcer (basically the person who keeps everyone on task), and the time-keeper.

Darby said the emphasis is for students to show what they know, rather than tell - right smack in line with the relatively new Illinois learning standards, which are aligned with Common Core standards - specifically, Next Generation Science Standards.

“It’s a lot different from the way I learned, where the teacher talks, you take notes, you take a test,” she said. “It’s much different from that, and the kids are really responding to it. That’s so nice to see.”

It’s a project-based class, so the youngsters have been through this sort of deadline scramble before. Nonetheless, many of them planned to stick around after school Wednesday for some extra help.

After all, they’ve come too far to not bring it home. It’s a huge part of their grade, Darby said.

“It’s kind of a final, in the old way of thinking, I guess,” Darby said.

And they don’t want to let their teammates down, another cornerstone of the new learning standards.

“You have to learn to intertwine and include everyone’s ideas,” Lindsley said.

She bounced eagerly during one of her team’s last time trials. The marble clocked in at 22.06 seconds - just 8 more to go.

“This is much harder than it looks.”

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Source: Sauk Valley News, https://bit.ly/1UDKQen

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com

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