Eighth graders of Berg Middle School on Friday afternoon were to imagine themselves as hired interns at Disneyland or Disney World, tasked with designing and marketing a new roller coaster for the famed theme park that would utilize one of its many cinematic properties as a top selling point.
Naturally, the students of Mike Kremer’s and Andrew Kuker’s science class went all out to impress the judges who would be examining their work based upon originality, construction, theme and overall effectiveness inside the Library Media Center of Berg Middle School. The grand prize?
“The top three coasters are going to get a pizza party,” Kuker said.
What more incentive do 225 eighth graders need, right?
Remarking upon the wonderfully chaotic spectacle, Kuker added, “It just came together. You get ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King,’ and you actually see these movies sort of come to life with insulation pipe.”
The library — filled with dozens of student-made roller coasters — perfectly epitomized the exhilarated essence of a boisterous and crowded theme park.
Clamoring conversations sparked from half way across the room. Sugary treats were offered to judges and other passersby to serve as either a strategic marketing method or as a way to “pay off” judges, essentially. Familiar Disney tunes blared from miniature speakers cleverly hidden behind props.
Using simple materials like wooden two-by-fours, toothpicks and pipe insulation tubes to build the “outline” of the miniature park rides, students were given an immense amount of freedom when constructing and finalizing their science projects, encouraged to stretch their creativity as far as they could.
So long as the marbles — effectively acting as the roller coaster cars — made it from Point A to Point B, anything was fair game. That is where the science, planning, designing and collaborating comes into play, Kremer said.
“We went through this process of designing your idea, having the rationale, the measurements, the scales — we went through all the scientific aspects of it and then we transitioned to the actual construction of it and the presentation of it,” Kremer said. “They might have a good idea. But can they realize it? Can they showcase it?”
Every corner of the room was filled with some kind of Disney-themed structure and surrounded by students eager to share their creations with anyone who would notice.
Some eighth graders took the theme to the extreme.
“That might be my fault,” Kuker said. “I said, ‘You have to do anything you to get those votes.’ Dress up, use theme music and we have people bribing for votes with cookies.”
One boy dressed in a bright green frog costume as part of “The Princess and the Frog” roller coaster, which was so big it had to be constructed in the hallway just beyond the library.
Students dressed as characters from “Star Wars” and had frequent lightsaber duels with one another while a teammate played a loop of John Williams’ famous score on the saxophone.
Another group created an ocean-themed ride inspired by the Pixar-animated “Finding Nemo,” complete with one girl dressed as the braces wearing “fish killer” Darla. (Not to worry, that “fish” she was shaking in a plastic bag was actually just a carrot.)
And then there was Berg Middle School student Mario Bereza, who drifted around his group’s roller coaster site in the driver’s seat of his homemade Lightning McQueen cardboard-and-duct-tape cutout. He wore the main character of “Cars” around his waist, acting as a mascot of sorts, attracting judges to his team’s roller coaster.
Made using the provided materials and a couple “Cars” toys, Bereza, Turner Williams, Noah Tibben and Colton Cooper constructed a theme park ride complete with a workable loop and winding path that ended with judges’ marbles landing in a golden trophy cup.
Overall, the boys said, they were happy with their creation. Being able to make a mess of a room planned for demolition was an added bonus.
“It’s cool that we’re the last people that are going to be able to do this in this library in this school,” Williams said. “It was pretty cramped, but we managed. We had lots of fun. I think we did pretty good.”
A sentiment shared with Williams’ fellow students, many of which were delighted to reimagine their favorite Disney movies into roller coasters. Although perhaps the most excited of all may be Kremer, a ‘90s kid who still carries fond memories of his Disney fandom.
While implementing a Disney-themed science project may have been fun for him, Kremer said it also lender a familiar connection to the kids, which may have added to the unbridled enthusiasm.
“These kids grew up with same movies I did and so it’s easy for them to create an awesome piece of work on their favorite movie,” Kremer said.
The eighth grade science teacher credited something his college professor said to his class as inspiration for the grandiose exhibition-like final project.
“The teacher said, ‘At one point, not every lesson can be a home run,’” Kremer said. “I’m a pretty stubborn person. So I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Why not? Why can’t I have a great lesson all the time?’ So these things are crazy or wild or intense, but they’re so fun and they’re so engaging. Mr. Kuker is the exact same way. We try to go big all the time.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org