17 March 2011


Kids love rollercoasters. Heck everyone does! And they're loaded with physics! So this rollercoaster activity is the perfect way for students to accidentally learn some physics, problem solving, and group dynamics, while having a lot of fun.

You need one 15'-18' track per team of 4-6 students. By track I mean foam pipe insulation cut in half. I got mine at Wal-mart. It comes in a pack of 4 pieces, 3' each. You'll have to do some pretty intense math and reasoning to figure out how many packs to buy for your class. Or if you don't want to think, just follow this:

  • buy 5 packs of foam pipe insulation, 1 epoxy mixing squeeze thing, and 1 roll masking tape
  • cut each piece in half length-wise
  • tape 6 pieces together per track, and you should have 6 tracks and 4 pieces leftover
  • epoxy the ends together, ensuring full-coverage of the ends, then use a little tape to hold it together while the epoxy sets and cures (I use 5-min epoxy, which sets in 5 minutes, but takes a whole day to fully cure)
  • after fully curing, remove the tape and scrape off any epoxy that oozed out
  • the pipe insulation comes with adhesive edges; press the masking tape to it and it will come right off
  • oh and you need marbles
Teach or remind students of basic physics principles such as inertia, gravity, acceleration, momentum, potential energy, kinetic energy, friction, and maybe even g-forces. I like to have them play this game to help them get a feel for the physics.

Divide the students into groups. Avoid groups of 3 students, they will have a difficult, though not impossible, time completing the challenges. Remind them to follow directions carefully. They don't start until you say start, and they stop when you say stop. Give one track and one marble to each group. Be very clear that you don't want to lose your marbles! (Pun intended. Students find it especially hilarious if they think you don't realize what you said.)

Give them one challenge at a time. Have all groups stop after each challenge is completed, giving each group a chance to be first to finish a challenge, and also preventing groups from simply falling behind. The challenges may include the following:
  • coaster with one loop and one bump
  • coaster with two loops, with a bump between the loops
  • coaster with a corkscrew and a bump
  • own design
With whatever time remains in the class, discuss group dynamics such as cooperation, leadership, conflict resolution. Discuss also problem solving, emphasizing the successes.

Maybe the pictures will help. I blurred out the faces to protect the young ones, not to creep you out. Enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment