Week One: DIY Rollercoasters; An Exercise in Science and Engineering


April 11, 2014 by WittyLibrarian

A creative coaster with a sideways loop and an arch

Program Title: Science Explores: DIY Rollercoasters

Target Age Range: Grades 4-6

Program Length: 90 minutes

Brief Description:

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.
Masking tape
Plastic Cups
Optional: Clipboards, paper, and pencils

Cost: $$50-100

Advanced Preparation:

Cut at least half of the foam pipe tubing/pool noodles lengthwise to make tracks. Leave some uncut to form tunnels for the coasters.

Program Outline:
1. Introductions
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

Handouts: None

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.

Resources Used:

Instructables: Marble Roller Coaster

Science Buddies: Roller Coaster Marbles: Converting Potential Energy to Kinetic Energy

Additional Resources:

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.

4 thoughts on “Week One: DIY Rollercoasters; An Exercise in Science and Engineering

  1. I’m going to buy my kids some foam tubes and try this. We’ve got plenty of marbles but marble sets never seem to be tall enough.

  2. Joel B. says:

    Just tried this program out for grade 3-6 at my library. It was a weekday evening time (6:30-7:30). We had a good mix of kids that worked well together either in pairs or larger groups (4). They liked telling the group what they knew about gravity, friction, etc… They were building and tinkering with these tubes and half-tubes for the entire time and never a dull moment! Also seemed to bring in a few kids that otherwise don’t come to library programs often.

  3. […] we did a roller coaster program that made kids VERY happy.  We totally stole this program from STEM in Libraries, only we offered it for grades K-5.  We didn’t have registration, and turnout was CRAZY—I […]

  4. 46334633 says:

    Where is the science of it????????????????

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