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published by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering
supported by 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.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Motion in Two Dimensions
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
= Mechanical Power
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Inquiry Learning
= Problem Solving
- Middle School
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
- Assessment Material
= Rubric
= Test
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2007 Regents of the University of Colorado
Keywords:
GPE, amusement park physics, energy, energy conservation, engineering design, friction, gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy, potential energy
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created November 20, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
January 28, 2014 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.
4F. Motion
  • 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

11A. Systems
  • 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.
11B. Models
  • 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.

Next Generation Science Standards

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions (MS-PS2)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object's motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object. (MS-PS2-2)

Energy (MS-PS3)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the motion energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object. (MS-PS3-5)

Engineering Design (MS-ETS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (MS-ETS1-1)
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (MS-ETS1-2)
  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (MS-ETS1-3)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)
Definitions of Energy (PS3.A)
  • Motion energy is properly called kinetic energy; it is proportional to the mass of the moving object and grows with the square of its speed. (6-8)
  • A system of objects may also contain stored (potential) energy, depending on their relative positions. (6-8)
Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer (PS3.B)
  • When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time. (6-8)
  • Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems. (9-12)
Relationship Between Energy and Forces (PS3.C)
  • When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Systems and System Models (K-12)
  • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems. (6-8)
Energy and Matter (2-12)
  • The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system. (6-8)
  • Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion). (6-8)
Science is a Human Endeavor (3-12)
  • Science is a result of human endeavors, imagination, and creativity. (9-12)

Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis. (6-8)
    • Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings. (6-8)
Asking Questions and Defining Problems (K-12)
  • Asking questions and defining problems in grades 6–8 builds from grades K–5 experiences and progresses to specifying relationships between variables, and clarifying arguments and models. (6-8)
    • Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions. (6-8)
Engaging in Argument from Evidence (2-12)
  • Engaging in argument from evidence in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to constructing a convincing argument that supports or refutes claims for either explanations or solutions about the natural and designed world(s). (6-8)
    • Construct and present oral and written arguments supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem. (6-8)
    • Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria. (6-8)
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)
  • Planning and carrying out investigations to answer questions or test solutions to problems in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include investigations that use multiple variables and provide evidence to support explanations or design solutions. (6-8)
    • Conduct an investigation and evaluate the experimental design to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence that can meet the goals of the investigation. (6-8)

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?

Link to Unit:
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AIP Format
(Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, Boulder, 2007), WWW Document, (http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml).
AJP/PRST-PER
Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters (Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, Boulder, 2007), <http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml>.
APA Format
Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters. (2007). Retrieved July 28, 2014, 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
Chicago Format
National Science Foundation. Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters. Boulder: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, 2007. http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml (accessed 28 July 2014).
MLA Format
Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters. Boulder: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, 2007. National Science Foundation. 28 July 2014 <http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters}, Publisher = {Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering}, Volume = {2014}, Number = {28 July 2014}, Year = {2007} }
Refer Export Format

%T Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters
%D 2007
%I Integrated Teaching and Learning Program:  Teach Engineering
%C Boulder
%U http://www.teachengineering.org/view_lesson.php?url=collection/duk_/lessons/duk_rollercoaster_music_less/duk_rollercoaster_music_less.xml
%O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D 2007
%T Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters
%I Integrated Teaching and Learning Program:  Teach Engineering
%V 2014
%N 28 July 2014
%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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Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters:

Same topic as Roller Coaster Model

A simulation-based lesson for middle school - students build a virtual roller coaster and watch as graphs of kinetic/potential energy are simultaneously displayed when the coaster goes into motion.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine

This 4-day module for Grades 7-9 presents the same concepts of kinetic/potential energy, friction, and gravity....but breaks them into two segments to ensure understanding of the concepts.

relation by Caroline Hall

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