Learning About Physics With a Roller Coaster Challenge

As a fun way to wrap up a unit on the laws of motion, Mr. Bill Earley’s second grade science students have been building roller coasters. Students have been learning about three major physics concepts in particular – motion, energy, and forces. Students have learned the definition of key terms such as motion, speed, velocity, and acceleration. They have also learned that friction and gravity are two examples of forces, and that energy can either be classified as potential or kinetic. Students have also gone over the fundamental concepts of Newton’s laws of motion, such as:

• Newton’s 1st Law: An object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force.
• Newton’s 2nd Law: Forces make things accelerate. The bigger the force, and the lighter the object, the greater the acceleration.
• Newton’s 3rd Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

To see these concepts illustrated, students have been challenged to build roller coasters out of kits, using cardboard tubes and tape as supplementary materials. The challenge is for students to see who can build the coaster that is both the safest and the speediest. Students will finalize their coasters and calculate the length of the track they used. They will then time how long it takes for the marble to roll down their roller coaster, and to find the speed they will use the formula Speed = Distance/Time. Whoever is able to design the coaster with the highest speed while still keeping the marble safe on the track will be crowned the winner!

Afterward, students will have a final assessment piece where they will complete a review sheet and make videos explaining how basic physics concepts are at work when a marble moves through the roller coaster. Students will explain things like:

• How they determined the average speed of their marble
• What the difference is between speed and acceleration
• When does the marble have the greatest potential & kinetic energy

Does your school do something similar?

One thought on “Learning About Physics With a Roller Coaster Challenge

  1. Hi,
    I am Sophia Alverdi and I am in Mr. Early’s class. I had fun building the roller coaster. My teamates were James, Charlie and Gracie.

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