This one may be for middle/high school, although I really disliked it when folks underestimated my elementary kids…so this may work for elementary also.
My husband and I just took a lovely afternoon train ride booked as “The Fall Foliage Special.” One thing we noticed was the amount of freight traffic coming through at our destination depot. There were six trains in one hour! There is definitely a lot of cargo being moved by trains.
It is amazing to watch these trains go by. They seem to go on and on forever, usually being pulled by just two engines. And returning to our starting point, the conductor mentioned that we were completing the final 20 miles of our journey using no energy as it was slightly downhill and the train had plenty of momentum. (Trains/Energy/Momentum…Authentic Teaching/Learning…)
So, I started to wonder…what does it cost to ship a container on a freight train? What is the cost differential of shipping something by truck versus freight train. Is it cheaper to ship by train? Why or why not? What makes one more reasonable than the other? Why is one picked over the other? (We live in Central Pennsylvania and I can assure you there is also no shortage of shipping being done by trucks on our highways!)
Maybe students can pick a cargo they want to ship from Destination A to Destination B and do a cost analysis of train versus truck. And to further the authentic research, add shipping by airplane into the mix. And don’t some of the freight containers that end up on a train arrive by ship? How in the world is all of this coordinated? And when I order two very different items from Amazon on two different days, how in the world do they arrive in the same box? Lots of authentic jumping off points!