First-Place Winner: TMA Excellence in Science Teaching
Integrated Physics and Chemistry Teacher
La Porte High School
La Porte, Texas
Building a Roller Coaster
This lesson is used to teach and reinforce the concepts of
speed, velocity, momentum, acceleration, and Newton's Laws of
Motion. The students in my Integrated Physics and Chemistry
(IPC) class will research and build a roller coaster that will
allow a marble to roll along the track. Once the roller
coaster is built the students will calculate the speed, momentum,
and acceleration of the marble as it rolls along the track. This
project is usually completed in 10 class periods. My students
are in grades ten through twelve. IPC is not a required
course at La Porte High School. Consequently many of the
students that take my class are the "lower level" students.
These students are typically not interested in science. This
"hands on" project really grabs the interest of the students.
They have the opportunity to be creative and apply the information
they get through research. Most of my students look forward to this
project. I have a number of students that sign up for IPC
just so that they can participate in this project. As a
result of the interest that this project stimulates, I have a
number of students that sign up for physics the following year.
Upon completion of this project the student will be able to:
Describe the law of conservation of energy.
Identify the conversion between potential and kinetic
Calculate speed, momentum, and acceleration.
Investigate and describe the application of Newton's Laws
Analyze the effect caused by changing force on the human
Construct a model of a roller coaster.
Methods of Implementation
After discussions and class activities on speed, momentum, and
forces, the students are put into groups of four or five. The
students then participate in "team building"
activities. The students then begin this project by
watching videos that discuss amusement park physics. This
helps the students to understand the type of planning that is
required to build a roller coaster.
Students go to the library to do Internet research on the
Roller coaster g-forces.
Law of conservation of energy.
Kinetic and potential energy as they apply to roller
How the forces of a roller coaster effect the human
How actual roller coasters are designed and built.
Building a Roller Coaster
Once the students have completed their research they begin to
design the roller coaster. They may use any design they like as
long as it fits on the plywood base. As they design their roller
coaster they must also consider the standards for grading (listed
below) and how the design they are using would impact a person
riding on it.
The roller coaster is then constructed by the students using
craft sticks and hot glue. These are the only materials the
students may use. As the students are building, I monitor their
progress and have discussions with them regarding their designs.
Students must also prepare a story board that documents their
research and the construction of the roller coaster.
When the roller coasters are completed, the students must then
measure the roller coasters and begin calculating the speed,
acceleration, and momentum of the marble as it rolls on the track.
To do this, the students will use a timer and photogates that are
attached to the roller coaster with clamps.
The roller coaster must have six drops, six turns, and a
loop. The roller coaster must also have a realistic design that
would not "injure" a rider. Points are deducted for fewer
drops, turns, or no loop. I also deduct points if the
roller coaster is not realistic.
The roller coasters are then displayed at a district wide
open house. At that time, the roller coasters are judged
by engineers from the petrochemical and space industry.
The students must be able to discuss their roller coasters and
their story boards with the engineers. The winning team
receives free passes to Astroworld.
Students can research and report on how the feeling of zero
gravity that is achieved on some roller coasters compares to the
feeling of zero gravity on the KC 135 or the Space Shuttle.
Students can research and report on articles related to
amusement park rides and injuries/deaths that may have occurred
while riding a ride (not due to accidents). Is there proof
that rides can be a cause of brain injury or death?
Description of What Makes Lesson Effective
This lesson is very successful for a number of reasons.
The biggest reason is that the students are actively engaged in the
activity. Instead of listening to me lecture or doing
worksheets, they are doing their own research and completing a
project that is fun and exciting. Teenagers love amusement parks
and this project really keeps them interested. The students
are able to be creative and work in a group. The fact that
their work is exhibited and judged at a district wide event is a
great motivator for my students as well.
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