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Snowtubing Trip Combines Math and Science for Interdisciplinary Lesson Outdoors

By Teresa Messmore, Director of Communications and Marketing
This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of the Tower Hill Bulletin

On a chilly, breezy morning in March, sixth-graders arrived at school excited to learn—but not in their usual Middle School classrooms. They boarded a bus to explore Newton’s Laws of Motion on a vast, white snowtubing hill. 
 
“We were looking for a fun experience for the kids, where they would be able to take some of the concepts that we learn in math and science and be able to apply them to the real world,” said Paul Mulvena, a math teacher in Tower Hill’s Middle School. 
 
Mulvena and fellow faculty members partnered with Roundtop Mountain Resort in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, for a daylong excursion filled with experiments that align with Tower Hill’s curriculum. The aim was to deepen students’ understanding of energy, mass, velocity and acceleration by testing concepts presented in the classroom using the scientific method. 
 
Teams of students stationed themselves at 50-meter intervals along the tubing hill, using stopwatches to record the times of classmates gliding down the mountain. The data was then used to calculate speed (distance divided by time) and acceleration (final velocity minus original velocity, divided by time). Students also made predictions about the results of single tubers versus groups of two, three and four. 
 
“It’s pretty cool to test out our experiments on the slopes,” Tate Peddrick ‘24 said. “It’s a lot more interactive and fun than being in the classroom learning about it.” 
 
After the field trip, students made additional calculations in math class by incorporating their weight, the mass of the tubes and the elevation at the top and bottom of the run. In science class, they plotted the data on graphs and made comparisons. 
 
“We’re lucky enough to bring together math and science, math being the language we’re speaking, but science being the application of the mathematics,” Science Department Chair Tim Weymouth said. “We’re able to record live data and see its relevance for different masses of groups coming down the hill while having lots of fun.” 
 
The trip illustrates how Tower Hill integrates a hands-on approach into students’ learning, undergirded by an initiative in the school’s Strategic Plan to “implement exciting and relevant experiential learning programs for students to use their skills in real-world scenarios.” Research shows that students are more engaged and creative when learning this way, as well as more likely to take intellectual risks. A recent University of Chicago study, for example, demonstrated that students who physically experience scientific concepts score better on science tests. 
 
Not to mention, field trips are fun. The snowtubing trip allowed for ample free time, and the students couldn’t help but squeal and smile as they sped and spun down the hill while enjoying the winter scenery. They were able to check out how snow is made, taking a close look at one of the resort’s huge snowmaking machines. The trip brought physical activity and fresh air to the day, while students also bonded as a class with their peers and teachers. 
 
Signature field trips—Cape Henlopen, Sandy Hill, Washington, D.C.—are a Tower Hill tradition, and teachers are finding more opportunities to broaden students’ horizons. A new 6th Grade field trip to New York City to research significant financial sites is but another example. 
 
“I love new field trips,” said reading teacher Kathryn Reese, who teaches a section of sixth-graders and accompanied students on the snowtubing trip. “It’s cool to explore new options out there, and I love being with the kids.”  
 
Beyond the educational aspect, they get a chance to just be kids and cross social barriers, Reese added, noting the students playing cards, singing and ignoring social media while on the bus. 
 
“They learn more than the academics,” she said. 
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