Math Is Real Life: A River Locks System!

It’s the first Wednesday of July which means it’s time for our monthly linky – Math IS Real Life!! If you want to see how the linky works, or just want other real world math ideas, check out our Pinterest Board of all the posts so that you can look back and find some great ideas and REAL pictures to use in your classroom!
If you are linking up, please include the below picture AND a link back to all four of our blogs – feel free to use the 2nd image and the links listed below!


A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by
During my last week of school, we take the students on a local field trip where they get the chance to learn a little bit more about the history of our town.  One stop along the way is a visit to the “locks”, a part of a 39 mile long system along one of the main rivers in our state.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with locks systems, “locks” are controlled areas of rivers that allow boaters to safely navigate extreme variations in elevation. 
The elevation change from the beginning of this 39 mile long system is 180 feet…which may not seem like a big deal, but this is about the same drop as Niagara Falls–just spread out over a longer distance.  These locks allow the boats to go around the dams and travel safely.
To allow boaters to travel this distance, a set of 17 locks was created 150 years ago to allow the boats to move from one elevation to the next.  The dams along the river allow the communities to harness the amazing water power of the river.
Check out the pictures below of the students being able to operate the locks (this is the second largest manual locks system in the country!)…students were fascinated with how they could open the doors to fill the channel with water, and then to open the OTHER door to watch the water drain and lower the water level so the boats can safely exit at the new elevation.  Each lock lowers the elevation of the water about 10 feet.
These are some pretty substantial gears! 

The students were able to open the gates to begin the process of equalizing the water levels…
You can really see the changing water levels on the top right picture…the students were fascinated to see how much water came pouring through those gates!
The students had all sorts of great “math” questions on our trip…from how many boats can fit in the locks at once…to how much does it cost…to how many gallons of water are in there (sadly, the locktender couldn’t tell us), to how long it takes to navigate the system. It was a great math/science experience for everyone!
Don’t forget to check out the other MIRL posts below! Check back over the next few days – more will be added!!