In this hands-on STEM activity, children explore Isaac Newton’s first law of motion by building their very own roller coaster!
- Duct tape
- Foam pipe insulation
- Chart paper
- Masking tape
- Cut the foam pipe insulation lengthwise to form two pieces of track. Cut these same pieces widthwise so that each team has four pieces of track for their marble to travel across.
- Divide your participants into equal groups and announce that their challenge is to construct a roller coaster that’s tall, fast and steep, but also safe.
- Explain that each group will create one roller coaster that meets the following criteria:
- The coaster must have a starting point and an ending point.
- The car (marble) must stay on the track.
- The coaster must have a lift hill.
- The coaster must incorporate at least two of the following: a curve, a loop, and/or a hill.
- Give each group two sheets of chart paper (to protect the walls), masking tape, scissors and four pieces of foam pipe insulation. Have duct tape available for those groups that wish to use it.
- Have groups determine where to hang the two sheets of large paper. One sheet should be taped to the wall approximately one foot higher than the other sheet of paper. This will give teams ample room to create a track that contains hills and dips.
- Have groups begin construction of their coasters using masking tape to secure the track (foam pipe insulation) to the sheets of paper.
- Inform groups that testing and re-testing is a crucial part of the design and construction of coasters. Using the marble, they should test and re-test their coasters and make changes when needed.
- Once the groups have completed their coasters, initiate a discussion using the following questions:
- What elements (lift hill, banked turns, loops) are you using in your design?
- What is the relationship between the lift hill and all other coaster track elements? (The lift hill should provide momentum for the rest of the ride.)
- What changes did you make to your coaster to keep the marble on the track?
What are we learning?
According to Newton’s first law of motion, an object in motion will stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force. In the design of a roller coaster, the loops and turns of the track act as outside forces, channeling the roller coaster in directions other than a straight line.
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