That's the response I get from students who've taken my engineering classes before when they find out it's marble roller coaster day. It's a class favorite. Students get to build 20' long roller coasters with their friends! It's an open-ended, fast-paced, constantly evolving, easy to learn but potentially complex, large-scale group project. This project reaches a wide span of grade ranges, from K-12. I'd like to note that the concept for this project is not my own, but the building and teaching techniques are. Enjoy!
Here's a brief clip from some in-class footage that I took during one of my classes:
- Students will comprehend basic physics concepts that are applicable to roller coaster construction, including potential energy, kinetic energy, and momentum.
- Students will apply their understanding of those concepts as they construct and text their roller coaster.
- Through a cycle of building, testing, observing and revision, students will gain an experiential understanding of fundamental physics concepts and the basics of successful roller coaster construction
- Students will also have an unstructured opportunity to hone teambuilding skills as they communicate with their peers during roller coaster construction.
Prep work: 1/5
Setup time: 1/5
Clean up: 2/5
Project time required: 60-90 minutes
Begin by identifying the project parts: the tubing is the roller coaster track, and the marbles are the roller coaster cars. Hold a piece of track between your hands and place a marble on it, and rock the marble back and forth to show how it works.
Next show the students how to construct the roller coaster (see steps 3 - 6). This shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. You can explain key concepts as you build each element, or at the end of the demonstration. I've included how to explain key concepts with each phase of construction.
After showing how to build the roller coaster, identify the 4 big mistake (step 8).
Finally, allow your students to break into groups and begin. I highly recommend working in groups because construction can be difficult to work alone. During construction time I usually walk around and check up on students and help out when necessary, but try to avoid commandeering someone's roller coaster. It's a fun and free-flowing project!