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Picture of Paper Roller Coasters :)
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As a science teacher, this is the best project I do all year.  I have yet to come across a project where students are more engaged.  They want to come after school to work on it, they ask to take the project home to work over the weekend, students are shocked when the class period has come to an end, and they all want to skip their next class to continue working.

The purpose of this project is to reinforce Newton's Laws of Motion through roller coaster physics.  The objective is to have a marble take the GREATEST amount of time to get from the top of the first hill to where the coaster ends. 

This instructable has also been submitted into the paper contest.  I know the competition is fierce so please vote for me!

Students will demonstrate ability to:

Plan and Create a paper roller coaster 
Evaluate and test and retest their roller coaster
Analyze how to best manipulate the forces of friction and gravity
Explain the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy
Calculate problems involving free fall
Create tracks to better understand centripetal force

This assignment can be easily differentiated... make the goal time longer, make the base smaller, limit the amount of paper or tape...

Below is a roller coaster I created as an example for my students.  The video starts with an explanation followed by a test run (around the 1:50 mark).  I tried to incorporate as many features as possible onto one sheet of card stock.  The last step has a video of a paper roller coaster I created a few years ago that includes an elevator.


 
knexfun1012 months ago

AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Biodynamic (author)  knexfun1012 months ago
Thanks. Let me know if you decide to build one.
YuliyaS2 months ago
Your website is such a treasure! I'm a beginning teacher and next year I will be teaching my first middle school physics class. I'm planning to make the roller coaster a big exciting project we do throughout the year . Thank you so much for sharing this!
Biodynamic (author)  YuliyaS2 months ago
Thank you! The time frame really depends on how long your class periods are. This past year I was working with 50 minute class periods. It took students about a 6-7 class days to finish. Some groups would have happily continued to work for as long as I let them. For the groups who finish early, I encourage them to try to make the "longest" coaster in the class/grade. They also have their theme that they can work on.
I usually give them a 20*30 sheet of foam core and tell them all supports must be attached to the board. Tracks can extend out over the "base" but must ultimately come back because there are no supports to attach tracks.
Often times, students will have an idea in their head and will work for the first few days and get stuck. I always encourage them to salvage the best supports and start over. Even if there are only two or three days left, it's better for them to learn from their mistakes, have a few good models to look at (other class coasters), have had some practice making tracks and supports, and then rebuild.
On the first day, I always have them show me they know how to make supports and tracks. We have a contest to see who can make the best. I walk around the room and inspect each one. If they are bad... I tell the kids what they need to do differently (usually need better creases or straighter fold lines). I make a model of what a good support should look like and the winner gets the one I made. Next, we do the same thing with tracks. You can always tell who watched the videos from the night before!
I know this was a lot of info. I hope it helps. Let me know how it goes and don't hesitate to send questions. Good luck!
YuliyaS2 months ago
A couple of questions - what is the time frame for this project and are there size limits for the roller coasters? Thanks for all your hard work!
YuliyaS2 months ago
A couple of questions - what is the time frame for this project and are there size limits for the roller coasters? Thanks for all your hard work!
littlej336 months ago

how did you do that

Biodynamic (author)  littlej336 months ago
I spent a few moons learning from Tibetan paper folding masters to become proficient in the art of marble roller coasters. I also have practice, patience, and get paid to work with 7th graders. Thanks for looking!
RodrigoG36 months ago

I was reading the pdf with the rubric, I see you give extra bonus (2 seconds) for every "theme". What do you mean with a "theme" exactly?

Biodynamic (author)  RodrigoG36 months ago
Great question. I added the "theme" idea after the first or second year of doing the roller coaster project because I needed something for the teams who were "finished" to work on. In the past, students have added print outs or hand drawings of everything from cartoon characters like Phineas and Ferb to sports stars with a basketball theme to movie themes like the Wizard of Oz. Each theme tied directly into the coaster. For example, the team that built the Oz coaster had a series of corkscrews attached together that looked like a big twister in the middle of their project and the basketball team had a jump that launched their marble into a paper hoop. Students have had so much fun decorating and finding creative ways to develop their theme that I thought it was a good idea to include it for bonus points. It's also been good for the students who might not have the fine motor skills to fold the paper for tracks and supports. They can still contribute to the team in a meaningful way. Hope this helps. I'd love to see how they turn out.

Great idea to foster creativity, thank you!

dakshgupt8 months ago
Physics is cool. A tremendous project to explain physics. Keep up the educational aim.
vernice10 months ago

Hi! Very Nice! Helping my grandson and we've watched your videos several times and found them very helpful, but after a vast search we could find nothing for the elevator. Do you have any information on how to construct a catch and release mechanism or where to look? Thank you

Biodynamic (author)  vernice10 months ago
I'm sorry, but I don't have a step by step for building an elevator... Yet. The one I built was created a few years ago and took so much time and effort, looking back I wish I had been more diligent about documenting the step by step. The best advice I can give you is to keep trying. Hopefully you'll be able to show me a better way to do it! I'll try to recreate the elevator this winter when my students are back to building their coasters. Good luck!

Thanks for the reply, we'll keep working at it. It's a science fair project so we have a couple of months to put it together. Our search now is for some type of release mechinsim. I'll keep you posted if we sucessed and looking forward to you next project.

RebeccaW310 months ago

Did you do one pack of card stock per group? I'm loving this as an idea for my Physics classes...

I teach physical science and my students started this project today. It is the first time I've tried it. I am giving each group 35 sheets of cardstock. I told them this is their "budget". If they need more they will have to buy their own. I am not sure how far 35 sheets will go; I'm on a budget myself.

Biodynamic (author)  mdillon2510 months ago
I know card stock can be pretty expensive (especially the 110#). I used a big paper cutter and cut the sheets into thirds for them. 100 sheets sounds about right. I like the idea of putting them on a budget. Let me know how it goes and please send me any questions. Good luck!!

Thank you so much!

Biodynamic (author)  RebeccaW310 months ago
I cut the card stock into thirds so I only used about 3 reams for around 60 students. I had plenty of paper left over for whole sheets to be made into funnels and time wasters too. The hardest part is tape. The kids fly through it. When I was teaching in a public school I asked the kids to bring in rolls of tape from home. The way I set up the videos makes it really easy to flip the class. Have them watch for homework so they know what to do when class starts. The best thing for them to build on is foam core poster board, but cardboard works well too. The projects take up a fair amount of room so I need my students to move them from the lab tables to the floor at the end of class. The base needs to be firm so they can move them. Finally, to keep the room from becoming a total disaster, I tell the students that anything that falls off of their base is fair game. Other teams can take tracks, corkscrews, time wasters, supports... If they are on the floor. They're just not allowed to steal something off the base from another team and say they found it. There are so many variations to the project. Good luck and have fun. Let me know if I can help in any way.

Just awesome

Biodynamic (author)  marydecorator1 year ago
Thank you very much!
owlsquest1 year ago

This is perfect for my Physics 30 class!

And Voted

VOTED!!!!!
e-beth1 year ago
love these things
ecsaul231 year ago

voted

Biodynamic (author)  ecsaul231 year ago
Thanks!
This is sweet
Biodynamic (author)  darthvadersbro1 year ago
Thanks!