This is the story of how I worked with other faculty to develop a project rich in physics, service learning, and experiential education. My colleague, also named Meghan, asked if I’d like to design a project with her that met these goals:

  • build empathy through addressing diversity in physical ability
  • learn the physics of forces through examples at the challenge course
  • design, analyze, and present building plans for new accessible elements
How would you re-present Islands so that someone in a wheelchair could participate?

On the first day of the project, we took the entire class out to the challenge course where we have four elements up for study. The objectives were twofold: 1) experience the element and 2) consider ways that those various physical limitations might not be able to participate in the element as implemented.

For homework, I had students read about types of forces and draw a force diagram of some interesting part of their Challenge Course experience.

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Here’s a student’s first stab at identifying the types of forces at play in her Nitro Swing experience.

And finally, I’ll adapt my lessons and examples about types of forces to include the challenge course examples. So, for instance, I’ll be sure to explain torque so that the students working on the Whale Watch (teeter totter looking thing below) and others on Islands can see how the physics works.

Student Version of the Project

The big questions: How does the challenge course work, according to physics? How can the elements be universally designed so those with a range of physical abilities may be full participants.

The learning goal: Understand and apply knowledge of forces through the study of the on-campus challenge course. You’ll work on a team to redesign an element that’s accessible by those with physical handicaps.

Tull Hall Challenge Course

I’m sharing videos of the challenge element being facilitated from start to finish. I find it useful to watch for how other groups go about solving the challenge as well as looking for spots where a physical impairment would make participation impossible.

  • Islands: move your team to the other side of the element by building bridges from provided boards that are too short at first glance.
  • Nitro: move your team to the other side of the element using a rope swing that’s just out of your reach.
  • Whale Watch: balance your team on the element in various challenges.
  • Challenge Wall: get everyone on your team up and over a wall that’s over 12 feet tall.


  • The Video: Your team will submit one video. One team member will be designated team lead on this part of the project and is presumed to have done the bulk of the video work, though everyone is expected to contribute.
  • The Proposal: Your team will submit a written proposal. One to two team members will be designated team leads on this part of the project and are presumed to have done most of the proposal work.
  • The Presentation: Your team will make a presentation to the Discovery Faculty in which you summarize your video and written proposal. One team member will be designated team lead for this part of the project and is presumed to have done most of the work on it.

Submissions Should Include

Your video and proposal must address all of these questions. Your presentation should address only those you feel are most important.

  1. Introduction
    1. Element name (include alternate names if applicable) and several photos of it.
    2. What’s the team-building point of your element? In other words, what is it supposed to teach a team? Be specific.
    3. What’s the trick to solving your element? In other words, what’s a team got to realize to succeed?
    4. Show us the element in action. Definitely show people working toward a solution on it, and people failing at it in all the common ways folks will do.
  2. What’s the solution for your element? Is there more than one?
  3. Fully describe the applicable physics behind your team’s element. You’ll be working with either Islands, Nitro, the Challenge Wall, or Whale Watch.
    1. Explain via free body (aka, force) diagrams
    2. Good challenge course elements have high perceived risk and low actual risk.
      1. What are the actual risks we must protect against? What sort of injuries could occur if we don’t?
      2. What is the perceived risk in this element? How can we heighten this sense of doing a risky thing so the challenge is more authentic and thrilling?
  4. How will you adapt your element so those with physical handicaps can participate?
    1. What mobility issues will you adapt for?
    2. How does the physics change? How does it stay the same?
    3. Is there anything else in the challenge course area that could be a potential challenge/hazard for the client you are designing for? What suggestions would you make to the Discovery team/Westminster do to address these challenges/hazards?
The Challenge Wall


Some of the best we could find but by no means complete:

Conflict Resolution / Equitable Work Expectation

Group work can be a challenge to participate in. When a team member doesn’t contribute, it can leave the remaining folks resentful at having to do the slacker’s job. Then the slacker gets credit without earning it. It’s not fair so I expect everyone to pull their weight in the project.

In an effort to allow a group to work as a team as well as keep everyone accountable, you’ll submit a project survey at the end where you’ll rate & rank your teammates’ contributions. Please attempt to resolve team conflicts among yourselves but know that you can bring your concerns to me.

Grades for the video, proposal, and presentation are group grades UNLESS significant team conflict is brought to my attention, in which case you’ll be graded on the portion of the project you led.