University of Wisconsin - Madison, Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) K-12 Tech Innovation

CoMPASS Physics logo
Primary Contact Name: 
Sadhana Puntambekar
Funding Framework: 
Grade Levels: 
Physics, incl. energy, forces, motion, and work
Availability and Access: 
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Roller coaster simulation, COMPASS-Physics

The Innovation: CoMPASS-Physics

Real-life applications of course content resonate with students, creating deeper learning opportunities. The CoMPASS-Physics learning environment invites students to think like scientists and engineers when building an amusement park roller coaster over a 12-16 week period. Students work in teams in a technology-rich, interactive learning environment to accomplish the following:

  • Use digital text, concept maps, and websites to investigate scientific questions and gather textual information
  • Use computer simulations to carry out scientific experiments and gather data
  • Conduct hands-on experiments to test ideas
  • Record evidence, and then write explanations and justifications in student notebooks, called “scientist’s journals”

Students write a roller coaster design proposal for their final project, reasoning like scientists and engineers as they argue for their plan’s safety, fun, and efficiency, and support their design decisions with physics explanations derived from collected data and information.

Common Core State Standards: English Language Arts Standards - Science and Technical Subjects:

  • RST.6-8.1-10: Grades 6–8: Reading for science literacy
  • WHST.6-8: Grades 6-8: 8 of the 10 standards in writing in science literacy 
Teacher comments about CoMPASS Physics

Results Achieved: Students’ pre- and post-tests showed the following significant gains:

  • Skill in integrating text and information presented in other visual formats (e.g., graphs or tables) and supporting claims with data.
  • Understanding of domain-specific concepts and the relationships among concepts as well as how these relationships apply in a variety of contexts.

The Grant Project: The Interactive Learning and Design Lab of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison received an NGLC grant in June 2011.

With NGLC funding, the project team enhanced CoMPASS-Physics and created supporting training materials and programs. Approximately 1,200 sixth-eighth grade students used CoMPASS-Physics during the project. 


  • Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)
  • Monona Grove School District
  • Waunakee Community School District
  • Auburn University
  • Bentley College
  • Kansas State University