A favorite lesson this semester was our ‘Marble Roller Coaster Challenge”. The purpose of the lesson is for students to identify examples of potential and kinetic energy, investigate the law of conservation of energy and how it affects motion of a body through space, and to create a system that uses the transformation of energy between forms to achieve a goal.
Students are grouped and provided with tubing, in our case pipe insulation, which they cut in half to make a trough. They are then tasked with varying the height of the starting point relative to the height of their hill and recording the results. The final step sees the students applying what they have learned in order to create their own ‘roller coaster track’ to achieve a goal that they devise.
One reason I enjoy this activity so much is that it allows us to work towards accomplishing almost all of our specific learning outcomes for the potential and kinetic energy thread of our science curriculum unit plan with one activity. I also enjoy jumping straight into the activity and allowing the students to discover relationships on their own. Finally, my students are super-engaged in their learning and have a blast. It’s hard to get them to stop experimenting and take their seats again!
Feel free to download and share the attached worksheet if you want to try it out with your class. Have fun!
Matthew Boomhower is a mid-career educator with 18 years of classroom teaching and educational leadership experience. He is Head of Innovation & Learning at an international school in Malaysia and is a proud husband and father.