Day 8: Finalizing Roller Coaster Prototypes

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SWBAT use the Engineering Method to design a paper roller coaster.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students will finish engineering their roller coaster models by testing, identifying failure points, making improvements, adding on components, and taking away components.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM,very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will develop an understanding of gravity while focusing heavily on the 5th Grade Engineering and Design standards. In the first few lessons students will explore the relationships between gravity, weight, and mass. Then, students will apply their understanding of gravity to engineer and design parachutes and roller coasters.  

Summary of Lesson

Today is our final work day. After today, students will take their models home over the weekend and bring them back for a final presentation day! 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address the following NGSS Standard(s): 

5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.  

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Science & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice 2: Developing and Using Models. The goal is for students to begin making a physical replica of a roller coaster system and to use the model to test cause and effect relationships.

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate content across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on Crosscutting Concept 2: Systems and System Models. In particular, students will be evaluating cause and effect relationships as they begin constructing and testing their roller coaster designs. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the Disciplinary Core Ideas:

ETS1.A:  Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

ETS1.B:  Developing Possible Solutions

ETS1.C:  Optimizing the Design Solution

PS2.B. Types of Interactions

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well! 


90 minutes

I begin today by explaining: Today is your final work day! You will get to focus on using the engineering method to construct your roller coaster model for today's entire science period! For those of you who plan to take your models home over the weekend, you'll need to arrange for transportation to school next week so that your models will arrive safely back at school. Since each team of students has been sharing two rolls of tape at school (the tape dispenser kind), I had to lift the constraint on tape so that students can continue working on designs at home: Guess what! Over the weekend you can use as much of your own personal scotch tape as needed.

Students are so excited! They can't wait to take their designs home and they can't wait to work on them again today! In fact, at least half the class chooses to stay in from recess to continue working! 

Gathering Supplies

One student from each group grabs their box from the stack of Team Boxes on the counter. Each team box is labeled "Pink Team," "Green Team," etc. Here are the labels: Team Labels.

In each box, I have a tape dispenser (I found them for  $1.50 each.), two rolls of tape, three marbles, Design Review cards in an envelope (for a later lesson), and I'll add a roll of masking tape later on: Team Box & Supplies.

At the beginning of this Roller Coaster Engineering Challenge, each student was given 30 sheets of card stock. To keep track of unused paper, each student has a folder that they keep in their desks to hold their card stock paper. 

Roller Coasters

Students also grab their roller coasters at this time. To help with the management of gathering and putting back roller coasters, I gave each team the same color poster board as their team name. For example, the black team all had black poster board bases for their roller coasters. I was hoping this would help students locate their roller coasters quickly during future lessons. In addition, I designated a spot for each team's roller coasters in the room. This proved to be helpful as students won't have to go looking for a spot each time we clean up our materials. 

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working on their roller coaster prototypes, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. Can you explain your design to me?
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. How did you decide _____?
  6. What would happen if you?
  7. Does your design team agree? 
  8. What are you trying to focus on? 
  9. Why is that important as a roller coaster engineer?
  10. Where might you place a half-pipe?
  11. Why are you choosing to include a funnel? 
  12. Did you have any failure points?
  13. How did you improve your design?


Improving the Design: During this conference, the student explains several ways that she has tried improving her design. It's still not perfect and still needs some improvements. This is a true test of a student's ability to overcome obstacles! 

Overcoming Failures: Here, a student explains how she fixed the funnel to makes sure the marble doesn't fall out. You can see that the students work their way up the track, fixing failure points as they go. Often times, extending the track will create more kinetic energy, making it so that parts that were successful before are now needing further adjustments. 

Making Improvments on top of Improvements: I love seeing how this student kept adding paper on top of paper until the marble stopped going over the edge. 

Taking Advice from Others: This student is doing a great job including a variety of roller coaster components. However, what I like most is that she is willing to take advice from others during this design process.

Having to Think and Rethink Design Choices: Here's an example of a student who is thinking and rethinking her design choices. She tries adding flaps, adjusting the angle of her half-pipe, and adding more tape to both get her marble rolling and to make sure her marble doesn't roll too quickly!

Changing the Plan while Designing: Here, a student explains how she had once planned to have several more funnels in her design to waste time. She then changed her plan while constructing her design. Having flexibility during the engineering process is such an important skill to learn! 

Finding the Best Improvements: What I appreciated about this student is that he not only tried to make improvements to his design, but he focused on making the best improvements possible. For example, he explains how he kept taking paper away to make sure the marble rolled into the funnel at the best angle possible.

At the end of today's lesson, many students are finished while others have quite a bit of work still to do. I pass out grocery bags for students to bag up their supplies for taking items home easily. As students walk out the door with their masterpieces, I cross my fingers and hope that they return safely and complete after the weekend!