Nolan Science Classes Mix Golf With Plate Tectonics

Plate tectonics mini-golfDriving sphero in mini golf challengeMixing golf with the geography of plate tectonics and robotics, Nolan Middle School eighth-graders designed miniature golf courses and put them to the test Friday.


Each student group chose among seven geographic locations around the globe that include soaring mountain ranges, deep ocean trenches and other dramatic sites where fault lines cross.


Their task was to build a miniature golf course hole for a sphero robot to roll across and in with natural obstacles like mountains and volcanoes.


On Thursday, students displayed their projects for a grade. On Friday, the day before the holiday break, it was fun time.


Eighth-graders meandered through three classrooms, using iPads as putters to drive the spherical robots, the balls, along the geographic courses.


Made mostly of cardboard and paper, each course measured about 3 feet in length and reflected a type of plate boundary.


Students learned the topography of the Andes Mountains, the Great Rift Valley, the San Andres Fault, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Puerto Rico Trench and other areas.

Designing golf hole

Robotics golf


Science teacher Karey Pierce brought the project to her peers from the Smithsonian Institution, where she spent 17 days last summer to become a teacher ambassador.


She and two other Texas teachers among the 32 participants conducted sphero mini-golf course challenges at their schools.


They are scheduled to present their experiences at a conference in Houston.


Pierce was excited with students’ diligence on the week-long research and build project.


“They definitely learned the science,” she said. “They learned about the faults and what they form. A lot of them learned to try and persevere and keep going. They would say, “I can’t get past this,’ and they would tear it down and start again.”


For most students, the result was not what they expected and that was a good lesson, too.


“A lot of them said, ‘If I had more time,’ or ‘If I had different supplies,’ but that was the parameter,” she explained.


Summerlyn Bennett described her group’s project based on the San Andres Fault.


“The San Andres Faultline is a transform plate so we off-centered the boxes and put arrows to show where each plate goes.”


In addition to learning to build, the group learned about shifting plates and how the land changes as a result.


Eighth-grader Harmoni Wright and her group studied the fault lines that meet in Iceland.


“It was difficult to plan out, but pretty easy to make,” she said. “We did have some struggles.” They found a little paint or other adjustment often solved their problems.


“I enjoyed letting my artistic creativity spill out,” she said. “I didn’t know about Iceland before this.”