First-grader Karen Maturino didn’t know what to expect as she walked through the thatch-covered doors to what used to be her school cafeteria. But as she entered the room, now transformed into a lush, chirping jungle complete with palm trees and props reminiscent of an Indiana Jones adventure, her day at West Central Elementary in Joplin, Mo., just got a lot more interesting.

“I’m so glad I’m at school today!” she said after being chosen to hula-hoop in front of her classmates before climbing into a wooden wheel demonstrating the same rotary motion. “This is a fun day. We don’t get to do this every day.”

Thanks to PSU professor Mike Neden and his technology education students, the physics and math lessons these children are learning may be concepts they’ll never forget. Neden and his students presented “The Mystery of the Golden Gorilla” to students at West Central Elementary in Joplin, Mo., a treasure hunt exploration that teaches children about physics – disguised in fun. For the past 10 years, Neden and his students have spent the spring semester creating an adventurous activity that solidifies the lessons children have been learning all year.

Divided into different stations, the activity featured a real moving car that laid a bridge across the Treachery Tar Pits, canoes (on small wheels) that children rowed through the Crocodile River Rapids, the Mad Monkey Mine – a real roller coaster with a wood car speeding across a frame of PVC pipes, and the Mystery Maze, where children compiled clues gathered along the way to spell out the location of the hidden treasure. The stations, each focusing on different elements of math and science, were all built by the PSU students manning them and accentuated with dim lights and tropical background noises.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for us,” said Rachel Hartley, a junior technology education major, who taught children how to use Python Pass, a large wooden wheel they moved by crawling inside. “We’re learning to work with students of all ages, and modifying activities by the seat of our pants. It’s a great experience that’s teaching us what it will really be like.”