Day 10: Roller Coaster Presentations

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

Big Idea

In this lesson, students apply and reflect on what they have learned by presenting and communicating their results to other students.

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

Over the next couple of days, students will be presenting their roller coasters to our class and to eight other classes that sign up to see our roller coaster presentations! Our own class presentations take about 50 minutes and the other class presentations take about 10 minutes each (students walk around from presentation to presentation during this time).  

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 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data. Students will measure and record the ride times of their protocols. Next, they will calculate the average and further analyze the data. 

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! 

Apply & Reflect

130 minutes

Our Class Presentations

Now that students have worked so hard to construct roller coaster models using the engineering method, it's time for students to complete the last step of this process, Communicate Results. First, students will take turns presenting their roller coasters to our class. Each student will explain most of the following points during their presentations: 

  • How their roller coaster works
  • The different components in the roller coaster
  • A failure point
  • How they improved the failure point
  • Average ride time
  • Why it was above or below the ride time 


Some presentations took place in our classroom while most of them took place on the stage floor. This is a large open tiled area at our school, similar to a cafeteria. A wide open space was much better for presenting and making sure all students were able to see: Presenting to Our Class.

Students set the roller coasters on the floor so that visiting students (such as kindergartners) can see each part of the roller coaster as the marble rolls through. Each student sat or stood next to their roller coaster, ready to present: Students at Individual Roller Coasters.

Student Presentation Examples


During student presentations, it was a struggle to encourage students to wait until later to provide suggestions. This is because throughout this design process, students have learned to rely on each other's help to improve their own design!

The student in Presentation 3 constructed what we called an elevator. She made a little cup, attached the cup to string, taped the string to a flap, and placed the flap at the top of the roller coaster. This way, the first marble would jump into the cup, pull on the flap, and release the second marble behind the flap at the top. I was so proud of her! Several students tried to create elevators and she was the only one that was successful. This goes to show how challenging it is to include this roller coaster component!

Other Class Presentations

I created a Google Document and invited teachers to sign up for a time to hear 5th grade roller coaster presentations. Eight teachers were able to fit these presentations into their schedules. My students were beyond excited to share!!!  

As each class walked in, my students would invite the visiting students over to their roller coasters and begin sharing. Then, visiting students would rotate around the room, listening to as many presentations as possible in ten minutes. My students enthusiastically shared failure points, improvements, and how they constructed the roller coasters. 

My students also allowed the visiting students to release the marble at the top and "test" the roller coaster on their own. Many 5th graders also brought in extra (and more special) marbles so that more than one visiting student could try out their roller coaster at one time. 

The result was AMAZING! Teachers were impressed and grateful for the experience. Visiting students were inspired. My students loved being able to share their hard work. By providing them with the opportunity to present, science and the engineering method became much more meaningful to my students.