Marvelous Marbles Moving

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SWBAT make observations that speed is related to the amount of energy in an object.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students use cardboard tubes to build marble roller coasters.


5 minutes

I begin this lesson by reviewing the definition of Energy and it's two main forms, potential and kinetic.  I ask students to explain what they remember about energy and transfer of energy?

Then I explain to the students that today we will be creating their own roller coasters with some simple everyday items to demonstrate energy and motion.

To get students excited and engaged, I then show this fun marble roller coaster video. 


20 minutes

I begin this exploration by introducing the idea of roller coasters.  I discuss with students what they know about roller coasters and how they work.  (hills can not be higher than the original height) Then, I ask students to use what they've learned over the past few lessons to help to explain how roller coasters operate.

Next, I instruct students get into groups of four or five.  I give each group materials that include 7 hard paper plates, and a marble.  I direct students to work together to build a roller coaster that their marble could ride.  

In these photographs you can see a groups of students working together to build marble roller coasters. 

You can see in this video a great example of students modeling a roller coaster with paper plates. You can see the second hill comes close to the same height of the original drop, but is slightly under the height of the spot where the marble originates.  This was a great example to show that the marble starts with a large amount of potential energy because of the height of the roller coaster. The marble then rolls down a steep decline before approaching the second hill. Since the marble had a large amount of potential energy, it rolled fast enough to make it up the second incline. Kinetic energy (the energy of motion) is dependent upon the mass of the object and the speed of the object. (As I circulate around the room I ask students if the coaster would "operate differently if they had different marbles: larger, smaller, wooden, etc.) Students are quick to realize that at some spots in the coaster, the speed of the marble is what allows it to proceed through a second or third incline. 



15 minutes

Next, I ask students explain their results and SHOW the class their marble riding on the coaster. Students are then given a chance to demonstrate their roller coasters to the class. I make sure to draw students’ attention to any roller coasters who used a hill.  I point out the example to show that the marble will never climb a hill higher than the first hill.  

Students have discussed previously how energy cannot be created or destroyed. 


10 minutes

After discussing the information above, the students are given the opportunity to refine their roller coasters from earlier. From past experiences, students are usually very eager to refine and make their roller coasters even better. 

 You can see in these videos below, student's roller coasters after more time to refine the coasters.  Notice how excited students are, but more importantly, how well they are collaborating to solve a problem. 







10 minutes

Informal assessment - Observation

As student groups work, I circulate around the room and ask questions to students. Types of questions I ask are:

  • Do you think the marble will go faster or slower on this part of your roller coaster? Why?
  • When the marble is rolling fast, what type of energy is being exhibited? 
  • What can you tell about the energy when the marble slows down?  
  • If your marble gets stuck, what do you think you can do to fix that?