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Levitating train mystery

  • Key Stage 3
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Problem solving
Topic: Circuits

Can you fix a levitating train? This activity focusses on careers, to show what jobs electricity and magnetism, and science skills can lead to. Students become part of a contractor's team responsible for the srunning of a maglev train in a theme park.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families initiative to promote subject choice and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) delivered by the Centre for Science Education at Sheffield Hallam University and VT Enterprise.

Get other STEM careers resources by sending an email to [email protected]

Published: 21st October 2009
Reviews & Comments: 1

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KS3 Science National Curriculum

Key Concepts: Scientific thinking 1.1 a (Using scientific ideas and models to explain phenomena)
1.1 b (Critically analysing and evaluating evidence)

Key Processes: Practical and enquiry skills: 2.1 a (develop and test ideas), c (plan and carry out investigations)
2.2 a (obtain, record and analyse data), b (evaluate scientific evidence and working methods)

Communication: 2.3 a (communicate scientific information)

Range and content
3.1 Energy, electricity and forces: c (electric current in circuits)

Personal, learning and thinking skills:Independent Enquirers:(explore issues from different perspectives)
Creative Thinker (connect their own and other’s ideas)
Careers element - Employability skills (Identify which employability skills are most important in STEM careers)

STEM Leadership Qualification: Unit 14: Level 2 Communicating Solutions to Others

Running the activity

Approach: Planning and investigation.
It is approaching the opening of a new season at the adventure and theme park and all the safety checks have been carried out on the rides and amusements. New for this year is a visitor transport system called the MAGTRAIN. When the operating crew tried a final run through, they found that sometimes it worked fine but other times it either didn't work at all but could not be safely switched off.
Your electrical contracting company installed the system and has been called in by the Park's Director to diagnose the problems and report to her how they can be solved.
Introducing the task
This activity shows the practical applications of classroom science by illustrating the various career routes possible with the knowledge and skills learned.
It is an opportunity for pupils to revise their knowledge and understanding of simple circuits, electricity and magnetism.
Pupils become members of the contractor's team responsible for the safe and efficient running of a maglev train in a theme park. They have to use their knowledge of electricity and magnetism to diagnose and fix problems with the running of the train.
They will work in small teams on different aspects of the problem, coming together to produce a report for the park's director explaining the problems and how they can be solved. This should include demonstrations of the science behind the issues so that the director can better understand.
The activity offers the opportunity to assess pupils' understanding and application of electricity and magnetism, their problem solving, team working and communication skills.
· The pupils need to be in groups of 4.
· These are their Home Groups where they should spend about 10 minutes discussing what they think the problem might be, how they might find out and how they plan to present their findings (this might influence how they go about collecting data from the different stations).

· Around the room will be resources to help with the diagnosis of the possible problem(s):
- Simple circuits
- Switches & fuses allow about 15 minutes for each activity
- Checking the current
- Magnets & electromagnets

· A representative from each group takes responsibility for one of the 'checks' and moves to the appropriate station to work with their equivalent from the other Home Groups. These are now Expert Groups. They spend time trying to decide if this electrical issue could be the one causing the problem.
· The Home Groups reform and the pupils share their findings. They put together a presentation/demonstration for the Park Director offering the most likely solution to the train problem.
· Presentations can be in a form of the groups’ choosing.
The pupils should be suggesting that the reason the train sometimes doesn't work could be because of faulty switches and/or fuses and the reason it won't switch off is because of steel core in the electromagnet.

News links

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Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Errors on sheets

Jun 22nd, 2010

2 Star

This looks like a good activity, but there are some errors on the sheets, and being PDFs they are not convenient to edit/correct.

Station 1 Jobsheet 1
The circuits are poorly drawn. The gap in the second circuit is very small - not clear. What do the dotted lines in circuit 3 mean? Why are the symbols used for lamps odd, with a '+' symbol rather than a 'x' symbol in the circle?

Station 4, details of the work to be undertaken
2. says 'Test each circuit for how many strong the magnet it when you switch the current on' - which does not make sense!

Finally, I'm not convinced the directives to students are clear enough for them to know what they should be doing.

I would be interested to hear the views of teachers that have tried it.

Reviewer: Keir Watson