What makes roller coasters go so fast?
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IMPORTANT NOTE

THIS LESSON WAS REVISED ON JULY 1, 2019.

If you've prepped for the activity prior to that date, we suggest using the previous version.

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DISCUSS:

How do roller coaster cars move if they don’t have an engine? (Where do they get their energy from?)

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If you need a natural stopping point!

Teachers: If you are short on time, this is a good stopping point. We recommend leaving your students' tracks set up so they can get right to experimenting at the start of the next session.

If you’re continuing right now, advance to the next slide.

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If you need a natural stopping point!

Teachers: If you are short on time, this is a good stopping point. The next experiment will require your students to get additional marbles.

If you’re continuing right now, advance to the next slide.

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Extensions

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the Exploration & Activity which you just completed.

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Video: People-Powered Theme Park

An Italian restaurant owner had an idea. He wanted to build amusement park rides that were powered by the people riding them. Forty years later, his restaurant is famous for his homemade people-powered rides. To ride these rides, people have to put energy in by pedaling or pushing or climbing.

Take a quick tour and find out what it’s like to provide the energy for a ferris wheel ride in this short video.

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Video: Meet a Roller Coaster Designer

Check out this short video from PBS Kids. Chris Gray decided he wanted to be a roller coaster designer when he was just 8 years old. Today, he has the job he dreamed of as a boy.

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Activity: More Science with Marbles

In the Bumper Coaster experiments, a moving marble gave energy to the target marble and made it move. Your class can continue to explore what happens when marbles collide with a game of Ring Taw. To win this game, students have to figure out what will happen when one marble bumps another. You'll find instructions on how to play, a list of what you need, and a worksheet for students right here. Show your students how to shoot marbles with this video demonstration.

For more experiments with colliding marbles, check out this lesson from master teacher Melissa Romano. (For this lesson, students need to know the concept of mass.)

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Print Prep
Activity Prep

THIS LESSON WAS REVISED ON JULY 1, 2019. If you've prepped prior to that date, we suggest using the previous version.
In this Mystery, students explore how energy can be stored as height. In the activity, Bumper Coasters (Part I), students add hills to the paper roller coaster they built in Mystery 2. Students release marbles down the roller coaster track to deepen their understanding of height energy and energy transfer.

Preview activity

Number of students:
Box
Any box measuring 20 cm (or 8”) high will work. The most important thing is to have enough space for the track and the students to work. A stack of books will also work. You can even use empty space on the wall to attach the roller coaster, as long as the track sits at 20 cm (8” high).
Details
1 box per group
Pencil
1 pencil per group
Rulers
1 ruler per group
Scissors
1 pair per group
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
Tape also works. We prefer stickers because they are easier to distribute in a classroom.
Details
2 stickers per group
Paper Clips
13 clips per group
Small Marbles
4 marbles per group
Alligator printout 1 per group
Bumper Coaster Part I Answer Key printout 1 per class
Bumper Coaster Part I Tracks printout 1 per group
Collision Experiments printout 1 per pair
Distance & Height Experiments printout 1 per student
Prep Instructions

This activity works best when students work in groups of 4. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need to build all four pieces of their roller coaster track.

Make Sure You Have Enough Space

Each roller coaster extends about 1.2 meters (a little over 4 feet) from the box, stack of books, wall, or other surface that it’s attached to. Each group of students will need this amount of space to work through the activity. If you don’t have enough floor space, a few student desks pushed together with a stack of books on top should work.

Prepare Stickers

Cut enough stickers so that you have two for each group of students that will build a roller coaster. The stickers need to be no wider than 2 centimeters so that they can fit and adhere to the roller coaster track.

Decide Where to Store Your Tracks

If you will be teaching Bumper Coasters Part II (Mystery 3), then you must save the tracks and the alligator that each group makes in this Mystery. Each set can be stored as pictured below and measures about 82 cm x 8 cm (32” x 3”). We show you how to deconstruct your bumper coaster in this step.

Stacked Tracks

Estimate Your Time Needs

This entire Mystery with the activity will take about an hour or slightly more. There are two natural stopping points during the activity ⁠— the first one when students finish building their roller coaster tracks and a second one after they complete their first set of experiments. If you are pressed for time or have a short class period, we recommend splitting this lesson into shorter sessions that might work better for you.


Teacher Tip

Experimenting with marbles is fun, but it can also be distracting! We recommend waiting to distribute the marbles and worksheets until after students have built all of their roller coaster tracks.

Extensions
Download this Mystery to your device so you can play it offline: