the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering
the National Science Foundation
This lesson for Grades 7-9 provides a complete package for a hands-on activity on the science of roller coasters. It opens with an overview of the physics concepts, including scripted teacher introduction. Students then work in groups to design roller coasters, using foam pipe insulation, glass marbles, wooden marbles, and steel marbles. Through inquiry, students build a deeper understanding of conservation of energy and the effects of friction. The package includes lesson objectives, detailed procedures, student worksheet, scoring rubric, and post-activity assessment. Allow two class periods.
TeachEngineering is a Pathway project of the National Science Digital Library. It provides a large collection of teacher-tested, research-based content for K-12 teachers to connect real-world experiences with curricular content.
Editor's Note:We recommend this activity in conjunction with "Roller Coaster Model", a simulation-based lesson that introduces simple math and allows students to model roller coaster motion using a computer program. The computer model displays graphs of kinetic and potential energy as learners create their own virtual track configurations. See Related Materials for a link to the model.
GPE, amusement park physics, energy, energy conservation, engineering design, friction, gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy, potential energy
Metadata instance created
November 20, 2012
by Caroline Hall
November 20, 2012
by Caroline Hall
AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)
3. The Nature of Technology
3A. Technology and Science
6-8: 3A/M3. Engineers, architects, and others who engage in design and technology use scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. They also usually have to take human values and limitations into account.
4. The Physical Setting
4E. Energy Transformations
6-8: 4E/M1. Whenever energy appears in one place, it must have disappeared from another. Whenever energy is lost from somewhere, it must have gone somewhere else. Sometimes when energy appears to be lost, it actually has been transferred to a system that is so large that the effect of the transferred energy is imperceptible.
6-8: 4E/M4. Energy appears in different forms and can be transformed within a system. Motion energy is associated with the speed of an object. Thermal energy is associated with the temperature of an object. Gravitational energy is associated with the height of an object above a reference point. Elastic energy is associated with the stretching or compressing of an elastic object. Chemical energy is associated with the composition of a substance. Electrical energy is associated with an electric current in a circuit. Light energy is associated with the frequency of electromagnetic waves.
9-12: 4E/H1. Although the various forms of energy appear very different, each can be measured in a way that makes it possible to keep track of how much of one form is converted into another. Whenever the amount of energy in one place diminishes, the amount in other places or forms increases by the same amount.
6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.
9-12: 4F/H7. In most familiar situations, frictional forces complicate the description of motion, although the basic principles still apply.
9-12: 4F/H8. Any object maintains a constant speed and direction of motion unless an unbalanced outside force acts on it.
9. The Mathematical World
9B. Symbolic Relationships
6-8: 9B/M3. Graphs can show a variety of possible relationships between two variables. As one variable increases uniformly, the other may do one of the following: increase or decrease steadily, increase or decrease faster and faster, get closer and closer to some limiting value, reach some intermediate maximum or minimum, alternately increase and decrease, increase or decrease in steps, or do something different from any of these.
9-12: 9B/H1b. Sometimes the rate of change of something depends on how much there is of something else (as the rate of change of speed is proportional to the amount of force acting).
11. Common Themes
6-8: 11A/M2. Thinking about things as systems means looking for how every part relates to others. The output from one part of a system (which can include material, energy, or information) can become the input to other parts. Such feedback can serve to control what goes on in the system as a whole.
9-12: 11B/H5. The behavior of a physical model cannot ever be expected to represent the full-scale phenomenon with complete accuracy, not even in the limited set of characteristics being studied. The inappropriateness of a model may be related to differences between the model and what is being modeled.
12. Habits of Mind
12C. Manipulation and Observation
6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.
Topic: Kinematics: The Physics of Motion Unit Title: The Case of Roller Coasters
Students build understanding of kinetic and potential energy as they design a physical model of a roller coaster with foam pipe insulation and marbles. The lesson is almost completely turn key: scripted teacher introduction, detailed illustrated instructions, student worksheet, scoring rubric, and post-activity assessment. Which track configuration works best? What can be done to reduce friction?
Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters. (2007). Retrieved December 8, 2013, from Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering: http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml
%0 Electronic Source %D 2007 %T Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters %I Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering %V 2013 %N 8 December 2013 %9 text/html %U http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml
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