About: I'm a High School Technology teacher with Creativitis, a disease that doesn't let my brain sleep. I spend my days trying to infect my student's minds with a desire to learn. I lead by example and hope that my …
Last year I spent a ridiculous number of hours staying after school to play with Toys. My inspiration for building this coaster comes from my extreme distaste for traditional grade 9 technology projects. (mouse trap car, popsicle stick bridges, etc.)

I'm 7 years into teaching and I'm constantly trying to come up with new ideas for fun and interesting projects, and ways to make my existing projects even better.

So.... I knew I wanted to make a coaster that kids could test their own custom cars on. I had 3 or 4 different K'nex coaster sets that I'd been collecting from thrift stores and garage sales. I just needed a place to put the thing. I've seen some crazy K'nex builds that take up entire basements and back yards. Unfortunately I do not have the space at school to set up something like this, and if you leave something out in a school environment, someone is likely to trip over it and break it. 

The solution is simple.....

Build the coaster on the wall. It's so simple that I don't even need to write pages of instructions for you. Besides, I was not a member of instructables when I built this project, so I don't have any detailed pictures of the assembly.

Here's what you need to know:
  1. You need to find an appropriate wall space.
  2. You need to decide on a size. Mine is 12 feet tall by 8' wide.
  3. I built two 2x4 frames that were 12' x 4' and covered them with peg board.
  4. Try to find peg board with 1/4" holes in it.
  5. Buy a box of 1/4"-20 carriage bolts. I bought 6" long bolts which worked great. You may need some shorter and some longer, depending on your design. Oh..... get nuts and washers as well.....lots of them.
  6. Find some sort of bracket to use for mounting the boosters and to support your large loops.
  7. 3 heavy duty hinges and some casters will let you swing your k'nex wall out so that it's easy to install components and make changes. Make sure that you screw into to studs, or use anchors if you're screwing into a block wall.
  8. Right now my boosters run on batteries, but it will be so much more convenient when I hook them all up to adapters and a power bar, so that I can turn them all on simultaneously without climbing up a ladder.
  9. The hardest part is actually building and designing the track layout. It takes time, and a lot of trial and error. I treated the peg board as a blank canvas. I started at the top, and worked my way down. When I got to the bottom, I had to figure out the best way to use my boosters to get back to the top again. It's really important to get large brackets so that you can overlap sections of the track.
I've attached the PDF file for PROJECT COASTER as I call it on the last page of this instructable. It includes a complete project outline, a rules sheet, a materials sheet, and expense tracking sheet, and an exemplar of one of the research components of the project. I've included so many components for the project because it provides a true differentiated assignment that gives students individual choice. I've used this project with three classes so far, and I'm constantly tweaking the rules and the outline, but overall it has been a huge success.

  1. By utilizing the design process, students will test and evaluate the success of their designs.
  2. By carefully planning and budgeting materials, students will simulate real life design scenarios.
  3. By researching many different aspects of roller coaster design, students will move past surface level understanding of concepts, and learn to be more curious about how things work.

There are many additional aspects to this project. While it's great for learning the design process, I also find it's a great vehicle for teaching computer skills, such a graphic design, and literacy skills through research and report writing. Another great aspect of this project is the trip to Canada's Wonderland, where we ask students to not only ride the coasters, but to take a closer look at the design of each one. Last year, we were lucky enough to see a ride in testing. It was conveniently filled with plastic dummies, which is the concept we use for this project. 

I also show the students a great video produced by National Geographic, that documents the design and building of Kingda Ka at Six Flags Park,.

Step 1: Details of the Track

Before I get into the project, here are some detailed pictures of the track. You'll be able to see why it's important to use 1/4"-20 bolts. The holes in the K'nex connector pieces are exactly that size. PERFECT!!

Step 2: Materials

I'm going to summarize the main goal of this project. You can access the other components of the project by downloading the PDF on the last page of this instructable.

The rules sheet, expense sheet, and materials sheet are available as PDF files at the bottom of this page as well as in the complete project outline on the last page.

I basically modified a K'nex coaster car so that we could attach our own vacuum formed plastic coaster bodies. The idea of the project is to purchase materials from the material list, and build a restraint system to hold the passengers in place. The passengers for this project are marble-sized, nylon balls. Some building materials are more expensive than others. I learned after the first time running this project to dramatically increase the price of tape. You want to encourage your students to come up with creative solutions. Tape is such a cop-out.

Anyway, there are bonuses for the number of passengers your restraint system can hold, but be careful, there are penalties for losing a passenger on the ride.

I usually come up with prizes for this project and make it into a competition. The person with the highest amount of money remaining after budget, bonus, and penalty calculations have been made is the winner.

Step 3: Building the Coaster Body

I make my students complete rough sketches and orthographic drawings before I let them buy materials to build with. If I'm not satisfied with the quality of there drawings or concepts, I send them back to the drawing board. 

Once they've be given the go ahead, they can start to build their first model. To do this they'll need to:
  1. Cut out a piece of their foam using the wooden template.
  2. Shape the foam with various carving tools, their hands, sand paper, drill bits... you name it.
  3. Vacuum form their foam mold
  4. Drill the center hole in the body of the coaster (they'll need to plan their seats around this hole)
  5. Cut around the outside of the plastic body
  6. Begin to attach their materials to the body. The wooden block is optional. For some designs, it gets in the way, for other designs, it's necessary for support. 
  7. Students may use varying sized of drill bits to attach specific materials to their car. I encourage them to try different bits in a scrap piece of wood in order to achieve a good friction fit. Remember, tape is expensive, and you're not allowed any glue.
  8. Once your design is complete, you have the option of trying a test run. Don't forget, this costs money too, but you won't be penalized for dummies flying out during the ride on a test run.
The example I show here is just a basic design. I'll post some examples of previous designs at the end of this instructable, but I'll always hide them from students at the beginning of the project. You don't want an entire class of copy-cat designs.


And now for the fun part. Let's fire up the Rippin' Rocket.

You can see the graveyard of coaster designs from third time I ran this project. You can see that there wasn't much tape used, but I think the price of pipe cleaners will be going up for the next crew of coaster designers.

I've included the entire document for this project as a PDF file at the end of this page. It includes the rules, materials list, and expense sheet. 

Some final thoughts:
  1. Have fun with this project! Even though it took me weeks to develop, I had fun the whole way,
  2. Have a lot of patience with your build. It took me a while to figure out the placement of each of the boosters, Try and choose light materials for your students to use, and remind them that they should consider the weight of their coaster as they are designing it.
  3. Try to think about which material your students will exploit, and make it really expensive.
  4. Try to create quality exemplars for each of the project components so that students know exactly what you're expecting. I've included an exemplar for EXPLORE 1a - Review a Ride. I'm currently working on more. Your students will always be more successful if you have concrete examples to show them.
  5. Encourage CREATIVITY! I've seen some really clever designs that actually didn't work that well, and I've seen some lazy efforts that for some reason had the most success. Consider some different categories for prizes. Offer more incentives for students to be original.
  6. Try not to show your students how they should use the materials. Let them have fun figuring out solutions. Subtle hints might get them moving in the right direction.
  7. My next goal for this project is the have students design their foam molds in 3d using RHINO 3d modelling software. It will just make this project so much more professional if they could cut their molds on a CNC machine. I currently don't have an efficient way to transfer files to our existing CNC machine to do this for a class of 30 students. Our software is old and so is the computer.
  8. I'm saving some real estate in the school shop for a new CNC. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. I think it's obvious what I would do with a shopbot. I would set up more cool projects for the kids. There will be hundreds of winners should you send that beast our way. :) Hmmm..... I'm thinking it would be cool to re-invent the soap box derby and cut out the parts out of all the sheet materials we get from a local cabinet manufacturer.
Toy Challenge 2

Participated in the
Toy Challenge 2

ShopBot Challenge

Participated in the
ShopBot Challenge

The Teacher Contest

Participated in the
The Teacher Contest

1 Person Made This Project!


  • Make It Modular: Student Design Challenge

    Make It Modular: Student Design Challenge
  • Electronics Contest

    Electronics Contest
  • Origami Speed Challenge

    Origami Speed Challenge


dr. richtofen
dr. richtofen

10 years ago on Introduction

Nice built and instructed!
BTW: in the video of the Kingda Ka, does the voice over at about 33 seconds in the video say rocket coaster, or is that just me?

Mr. Noack
Mr. Noack

Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

No, you heard right, however the coaster is not propelled by a rocket :(