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Energizing Everything    Mystery 2

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In this Mystery, students will explore how energy can be stored as height. In the activity, they will investigate how hills give roller coasters energy by experimenting with a model “bumper coaster.”

What makes roller coasters go so fast?

Beginning Exploration (1 of 6)
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Beginning Exploration (2 of 6)

Discuss:

It seems like roller coaster cars can move without a motor.

Do you have any ideas about how they do this?

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Beginning Exploration (3 of 6)
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Beginning Exploration (4 of 6)

Discuss:

The motor provides the energy needed for the roller coaster to climb the hill. But where does the energy come from that makes the roller coaster zip through the rest of the ride?

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Beginning Exploration (5 of 6)
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Beginning Exploration (6 of 6)

Discuss: Which roller coaster is faster, the white one or the red one? How can you tell?

coasters

Reveal answer

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Beginning Activity Prep
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Activity Prep

Step 1: Decide how many bumper coasters your class will make and use.

We recommend one bumper coaster for every 3 students. Each group of 3 will need a floor space measuring about 6’ X 3’.

If you’re worried you don’t have enough space, you could do this activity as a demonstration or set up a station with a single bumper coaster that students can experiment with in groups of 2 or 3 over a few days.

Step 2: Get supplies and print worksheets.

Note that students will re-use the foam tubing and marbles in Mystery 3.

For each group of 3 students building a bumper coaster, you need:

  • a 3-foot-length of foam pipe insulation (for ¾-inch pipe) -- available on Amazon (order 1 package for up to 12 students, 2 packages for up to 24 students etc.). The insulation is also available at most hardware stores (e.g.,Lowes, Home Depot). The insulation comes in 6-foot and 3-foot lengths. (A single 6-foot length will make two bumper coasters.)
  • 4 small marbles (⅝” is the standard size). The foam track and marbles that you get for this lesson will be used again in the next two lessons.
  • a stack of books or a box to make hill that’s 12” tall
  • a 24” strip of masking tape
  • a ruler
  • scissors
  • a paper or Styrofoam cup

Each student will need:

Step 3: Before class, cut each 3-foot-length of foam pipe insulation lengthwise.

This takes about 15 minutes for 7 bumper coasters.

You’ll need a cutting board and a sharp knife (like a steak knife or a jackknife). This video shows you what to do.

Beginning Activity: Bumper Coasters
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Beginning Complete!

You've completed the Exploration & Activity!

If you have more time, view the assessment, reading and extension activity in the optional extras.

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Optional Extras

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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Image & Video Credits

Mystery Science respects the intellectual property rights of the owners of visual assets. We make every effort to use images and videos under appropriate licenses from the owner or by reaching out to the owner to get explicit permission. If you are the owner of a visual and believe we are using it without permission, please contact us—we will reply promptly and make things right.

Lesson Image
Exploration
blue Car by Arup Malakar , used under CC BY
cheetah by Marlene Thyssen , used under CC BY-SA
bike lane by Elvert Barnes , used under CC BY-SA
hills by Eamon Curry , used under CC BY
meteor by Ed Sweeney , used under CC BY
Activity
penguins by Liam Quinn , used under CC BY-SA
marbles by Haragayato , used under CC BY-SA
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