April 11, 2014 by WittyLibrarian
Program Title: Science Explores: DIY Rollercoasters
Target Age Range: Grades 4-6
Program Length: 90 minutes
Explore the concepts of kinetic and potential energy, as well as velocity, by creating marble rollercoasters.
Foam pipe tubing or pool noodles. Factor 3 tubes/noodles per child as a minimum.
Optional: Clipboards, paper, and pencils
Cut at least half of the foam pipe tubing/pool noodles lengthwise to make tracks. Leave some uncut to form tunnels for the coasters.
2. Show videos explaining the physics of roller coasters
a. “What is Kinetic and Potential Energy” Video
b. “Roller Coaster Design” Video, featuring a roller coaster engineer. (May need to
create a free account to view)
3. Play “Kinetic and Potential Energy” song
4. Discuss concepts learned
5. Build a coaster together with online coaster builder:
6. Optional: Draw out your roller coaster design
7. Separate kids into team (3-5 per team) to build roller coaster
8. Towards end of the program, have each group demonstrate their roller coasters
9. Optional: Build a gigantic group roller coaster with everyone
Special Instructions and Procedures:
Using either foam pipe tubing or pool noodles, create roller coaster tracks for marbles to roll on. Tape tubes together with masking tape, and use boxes to create hills for the track to run on. Place a cup at the end of the track to catch the marble when the ride ends.
Instructables: Marble Roller Coaster
Roller Coaster Physics Video
Science Buddies: Roller Coaster Marbles: How Much Height to Loop the Loop?
What we would do differently:
This was a highly successful program, and extremely popular with the participants as it was. The only changes we might make to the program would be to include more boxes to use as ramps and obstacles and increase the length of time for the program. Even at 90 minutes long, we had kids staying late to try “just one more thing” with their coaster.
Adaptation for older/younger audience:
This program would work well for a younger audience, grades 1-3, as is.
To adapt for a teen audience, add complicated obstacles and introduce the concept of track changes—inserting paper card stock ramps and track elements to see how the dynamics of the roller coaster changes.