Thrilling Moments Through Physics

At Riverdale Country School, physics students learn design thinking alongside the laws of motion.

The assignment goes like this: Design and construct a roller coaster that features at least three of these thrills – drop, turn, loop, or jump. Provide calculations to prove that each of the thrills works. In theory, the total amount of mechanical energy (the kinetic plus potential) possessed by the car at the beginning of the ride is constant throughout the trip as potential energy is transformed to kinetic energy and vice versa. The students learn that other factors get in the way.

As John Saunders, one of the teachers says, “The real world is not so perfect as our physics problems. They don’t get as much energy at the bottom as they were experiencing at the top. They are on the hunt for the missing energy.”

Design, build, test, calculate, revise, test, calculate, possibly redesign…it’s a challenge that teaches students how to think for themselves.

Does your school do something similar?

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