20 Years of Amusement Park Physics

disk_kuling_platsDuring a few days, 10-15 of September 2015, I participated in, arranged and observed three different physics/science days in three parks: Gröna Lund, Liseberg and Tivoli Gardens – and realised that I could look back on 20 years of amusement park physics. These 20 years have involved a development from a small introductory activity for 35 students to a wide range of tasks of many levels of difficulty for most rides in Liseberg and Gröna Lund, as well as international collaborations. The student assignments have been presented in some detail in a number of articles. The evolving format has built on reflections and evaluations from students, teachers and collaborators, and been scaled up to special edutainment or physics days for thousands of students, and forms for teacher involvement as described in our paper about Teacher Roles in Amusement Parks.

Three more years of September amusement park activities have passed, with minor tweaking of the format. This summer we ran on-site teacher workshops both in Liseberg and Gröna Lund, to ensure that teachers got familiar with the park, the rides and the assignments – and had tried them out for themselves. In both parks, we found that  a majority of the students were involved in serious discussions about the rides. Applying physics to the experiences of your own body can be quite challenging. We also found many teachers discussing with their students: Teachers are coming back, year after year, learning more about the assignments, adapting them or developing their own and gaining experience in amusement park field trips. Some of the teachers have also participated in amusement park activities as students.

In this blog post, I would like to look back on this development over twenty years.

Once upon a time

Once upon a time, in 1995, the University of Gothenburg started a new education: “NP” – Problem Solving in Natural Sciences“, combining math, physics and environmental science with programming and a problem solving approach, aiming to recruit a more diverse student population. One of the first group assignment for the 35 new students as to investigate force and motion in three of the rides at Liseberg – and I should send a delayed apology to Liseberg for not having contacted them in advance. Many of these problem-solving students went to the guest service with questions about data for the rides. Thus started a project where students produced a www site with assignments, data and background, to pave the way for next years’ students: An example from that time is the page for the now retired Cirkusexpressen (altough the photos have been updated). In the years that followed, Liseberg activities were added to physics and technology courses in teaching programmes.

In 1999, Ann-Marie visited Gröna Lund, together with student teachers and colleagues in Stockholm – the visit and activities are documented at their www-site.

A scaling up was initiated in 1999, when zosara_instruerarophysiologist Margareta Wallin suggested that her colleague Michael Axelsson, who was monitoring heartbeats in crocodiles, might also measure heartbeats in pupils in amusement rides. With financial support from the research council (FRN) we were able to develop class activities, named “Slagkraft” (Project Impact). After trying out with a pilot class, we disovered that Aerovarvet was an excellent ride – the heartrate invariably dropped for riders upside down. For the next few science festivals, a number of classes were invited to supervised visits, where some of the original NP-students acted as supervisors for the physics activities, complementing Aerovarvet. Typicall
y, the pupils got to try experiments in Lisebergbanan, Uppskjutet and Ponnykarusellen.
sara_amiFollowing a teacher conference in 2001, Ann-Marie sent a mail to Liseberg “I have a dream … to do a physics day” – and total of 5 days were arranged during 2002-2004, growing from 600 to 2000 students, and involving student teachers from Halmstad, Borås, Skövde and Göteborg, as well as engineering students from Chalmers. In one occasion educators from Navet Science Center in Borås discussed with pupils, dressed up as scientists, (including two of the first cohort of NP students in the photo, impersonating Newton and da Vinci). The project was presented at Physics on stage in 2002.

The development during the following years focused on engineering physics student projects at Chalmers, with occasional teacher student activities. I supported the development of the material Fysikkfryd på Tusenfryd for the International Year of Physics in 2005, and produced a small quiz for Kongeparken in Norway the following year.

Loop shape mathematics and honorary doctorate


The spring of 2005, as Kanonen was under construction at Liseberg, I spent considerable time programming different loop shapes, I became more and more fascinated by all developments introduced by Werner Stengel (including the loop shape). I got the idea to nominate him for a Dr Honoris Causa at Göteborg university – so in October 2005, I got to ride my tour number 100 in Balder, together with the designer riding it for the first time. Last year, we rode the Helix roller coaster together during the opening day.

From Gothenburg to a National Resource Centre

katting_diskIn 2009, Ann-Marie was appointed the director of the Swedish National Resource Centre for Physics Education, based in Lund, with a mission to support teachers in their physics teaching from preschool to high school. A collaboration was initiated with Gröna Lund in developing student assignments for Edutainment days. This collaboration was then extented to Vetenskapens Hus in Stockholm, as described in more detail in our joint conference paper. Since 2012, Physics days take place again at Liseberg, with teachers playing an important role for the discussions with students – both their own and others. It is always a joy to observe all the discussions taking place. The amusement park material can be found at tivoli.fysik.org, with some material still residing at physics.gu.se/LISEBERG.

From south Sweden, Copenhagen is only a short train-ride away. Following observations and discussions at Tivoli gardens last week, we plan to initiate a closer collaboration concerning task development and teacher preparation for 2016.

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