Week Seventy-Four: Zany Zip Lines

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January 14, 2019 by WittyLibrarian

ziplinecoverProgram Title: Zany Zip Lines

Target Age Range: Grades 3-4

Program Length: 60 minutes

Brief Description: Learn about the science behind zip lines and create your own zip line carrier.








Small toy animals

This is what can affectionately be called a “closet cleaner” program- there is no specific material necessary for this experiment (other than the four items listed above), everything else can be any random assortment of supplies you have on hand. For our program, we used the following supplies:

Milkshake straws


Foam sheets

Cupcake liners

Coffee filters

Popsicle sticks


Dish scrubbers

Pipe cleaners

Dixie Cups

A variety of plastic disposal cups of different sizes and shapes

Cone shaped water cups

Masking tape

Cost: $

Advanced Preparation:

Prior to the program starting, set up two zip lines using the string and tape. We had one short and steep zip line, and one long and shallow zip line. We taped the end of the zip line to the floor, and the top of the zip line to a podium that was in the room. Be sure that you can easily undo one end of the zip line to attach zip line carriers to.

We laid out all the various building materials on supply tables for participants to browse and choose on their own.

Program Outline:

  1. Introduction of Topic and an explanation of the science behind zip lines. How Stuff Works’ article How Zip Lines Work has a good overview of zip lines, covering the history of them, the science behind them, and safety features of commercial zip lines. Outdoor Classroom’s video Physics & the Science of Speed on a Zipline is a very simple, kid-friendly explanation of zip lines, that also explores many of the concepts the main experiment covers.
  2. Explain the zip line project.
  3. Project building begins.
  4. Project testing on each zip line. Designs modified as needed.


2r5pbiBuilding Zip Line Carriers.

This project was inspired and adapted from two sources: Discovere.org’s Zip Line Challenge  and Instructables.com’s Propeller Powered Zipline Racers by LanceMakes

Participants were divided into pairs, and each pair were charged with the objective to build a  that would safely carry a small toy animal from the top of the zip line to the bottom of the zip line. The toy animal was considered safely delivered if it didn’t fall off or out mid-ride. Additionally, the toy animal could not be taped or tied to the carrier; it needed to ride in or on the carriers.

When the carriers were built, they were tested first on the short, steep zip line and timed. If a team was successful in reaching the bottom of the zip line safely, they had the option to either redesign their carriage for a faster time, or try the device on the long and shallow zip line. Teams tested and redesigned carriages until they were able to safely traverse both zip lines.

Resources Used:

How Stuff Works’ article How Zip Lines Work

Outdoor Classroom’s video Physics & the Science of Speed on a Zipline

Discovere.org’s Zip Line Challenge 

Instructables.com’s Propeller Powered Zipline Racers by LanceMakes

What we would do differently:

zipline2When we originally planned this program, the original objective had the participants building their carriages around straws, with the idea that the straw would act as the “pulley” for our zip line carriers. However, while each team did use the straws, many built carriers that used other materials as the pulley on their carriers. Therefore, we recommend dropping that requirement.

Adaptation for older/younger audience:

This is a program that is very flexible for a variety of ages. Zip lines are a concept that young children in grades 1-2 can easily grasp, and the open nature of the building project allows for a great level of creativity. For Pre-K and Kindergartens, zip lines could be included in a STEAM storytime, especially one where caretakers are present to help encourage design plans.

zipline1 For older kids, in grades 5-6, we would offer a similar program, but incorporate balloons as a means of propulsion. For teens, not only would we encourage balloons for propulsion, as well as perhaps using Instructables.com’s Propeller Powered Zipline Racers by LanceMakes as a design option, but we would make it a competition for who could have the fastest design of a zip line carrier. This would also work well as a family program, due to the collaborative nature of the project.



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