The Science Behind a Roller Coaster Ride

The Science Behind a Roller Coaster Ride
Posted on 04/27/2017
Forces and Motion Roller Coaster

Science Instructor, Chris Gude, sent his sixth-grade students on a thrill ride of their own for the Forces and Motion unit final project.  Each group of 2-3 students was tasked with designing a roller coaster, incorporating sudden turns, loops, cork screws and hills, with the end goal of a marble moving from the beginning to the end without falling off.

Students were given eight, three foot sections of foam tubing that was taped together, a roll of masking tape and a marble.  From there, teamwork, creativity and science concepts were employed.  Pondering things like balanced and unbalanced force, gravity, kinetic and potential energy, friction, Newton’s Laws and speed, students gathered regular classroom materials and got to work.  There were eight different levels to achieve, with each level incorporating more difficulty in the roller coaster design.  As the designs progressed, and problems occurred, students recorded the problem on their trial and error notes chart and tweaked the design to create a solution.

Upon achieving success with the marble moving from beginning to end, students showed their understanding of the different forces and motion concepts by sketching the successful roller coaster design, and labeling it accordingly with at least five of the vocabulary words and definitions.

Hailey, Jordan and Campbell shared that they spent the two days working through the various levels to create their roller coaster, which they named Sprinkles.  “The marble represents a person, and we named our marble Bobby.  We are trying to make two loops, two hills and two curves, and right now we are working on the loops, so that Bobby won’t fall of the track,” said Jordan.

Nearing the end of the period, Mr. Gude emphasized to the students that even if they felt like they didn’t get very far in the design of the roller coaster, the conversations and problem solving that occurred within each group brought about the best learning.  The levels simply raised the bar and created a challenge to keep moving forward.  Mr. Gude sent students out the door by exclaiming, “You all did a great job today!”