Building A Model Roller Coaster

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SWBAT choose the best materials to create a model roller coaster

Big Idea

Students need to understand that some materials are better suited to a job than others. Building a model can help them experience that.

Background Information

This lesson will be best if done over several days. During the first day students will have a chance to explore the idea of motion and what makes things move. They will also sketch their roller coasters and decide which recycle materials might be best for their designs and why. 

During the second day students will build and test their roller coasters. In a third science block or a writing block, students may benefit from a chance to adapt their models and designs after testing them. This would help students to really think about which materials are best suited, as well as which shapes yield the best roller coaster experience. The adaptations should take place after students have tested their own roller coaster and watched the testing of classmate's models. For me this adaptation step consists of drawing and writing rather than rebuilding.

I Can

5 minutes

I begin today by inviting students to read the I can statement with me. This statement helps students to understand what is expected of them. We read, "I can decide on the best materials to build a model roller coaster."

I say, "today I will share with you  a variety of materials. Your goal will be to create a roller coaster for a small ball using the best possible materials. You will be working in small groups so you will need to talk with your partners as you think about your design. Before you begin, I would like you all to come to the rug."

I bring students to the rug to talk a little bit about motion of objects and to get them thinking about how things move before they attempt to build a roller coaster that will rely on movement.

What Is Movement

15 minutes

I have students sit around the outside of the rug. I bring out several materials. The first is a small ball. I set the ball on the rug and ask, "It is moving?" (no) "What could I do to make it move?" (push it, roll it, hit it with your hand, etc.) As students make suggestions, I move the ball. Next I take several books and set them in the center of the rug. I use a large piece of cardboard to make a ramp from the top of the books to the rug. I ask, "What will happen if I let go of the ball at the top of the ramp?" (It will roll down). I demonstrate this. "What would happen if I let go of the ball at the bottom of the ramp?" (It won't move) "Why won't it move?" (there is nothing for it to roll down, no one pushed it, etc.) Here I want students to get the idea that things move when they are at the top of an incline, or when moved by a force (a push), but not when left alone.

I bring out a small car and repeat the demonstration. This time I ask students to take turns showing me how they might move the car (while staying on the rug). I say, "can you show me a way to move this car? Can you show me a way that no one else has tried?" I let 4 or 5 students try to move the car. We talk about why it moves some of the time but not when left alone.

I bring out a small cube shaped block and repeat the demonstration. I let students try to move the block. We talk about why the block is more difficult to move than the ball or the car.

I say to students, "today you want to think about what makes things move, in this case, roll, as you try to design a model roller coaster for this small ball to roll down. How many of you remember what a model is?" (I ask for several people to explain a model because we have made models in the past and I want to tie in to their previous learning and understandings. I correct any misconceptions about models that may arise from the student definitions.)

I ask students to return to their seats for directions.


Designing Our Models

25 minutes

I begin this part of the lesson by giving directions. I say, "in a few minutes you will find your buddy wheel buddy and sit down together to sketch out what your model roller coaster will look like. You will want to walk by the materials table to see what kinds of materials you will want to use, and think about why those materials might work best. Each one of you must choose at least 1 different material and write down why you think that material would work best. After you have done that, you and your partner should think about how those materials might be shaped into the model of a roller coaster. How many of you have seen or been on a roller coaster before?"  (I have some pictures of old and new, large and small roller coasters to show students in case they are not clear on what a roller coaster looks like.) 

"Remember that you are building a model roller coaster. It needs to fit into a space that is no more than 8 feet square." (I have chosen the 8 foot square to reinforce the idea of a model being a representation of the real item, and to allow space for each group to work.) I hold up a ruler and ask students how I might figure out 8 feet. I let several students mark out the 8 foot square area. " I am going to write the directions for getting started on the board in order to help you remember what it is you need to do today."

I write:

1) Look at all the materials on the table (I put out cardboard of various sizes, old boxes, egg cartons, juice cartons, strips of pipe insulation, plastic cups, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, cotton, and paper) and pick one that you think would be the most important for your roller coaster and write down what it is and why you have chosen it journal page

2) Meet with your partner and compare materials and share why you picked that material

3) Draw a sketch of what your model will look like, using both materials and any others you think you will need

4.) Be ready to share your sketch with another group in 20 minutes.original sketch

I ask students to file by the table, look at the materials and take a sample back to their desks if they want. I give them paper as they go by and ask them to write about why they have chosen a material. (I am interested in their reasoning here because I want them to begin to develop an understanding that materials are chosen because of how they function, or their shape, when someone is making something, and that not every material does the same job.)

When everyone has written down their material and reason, I call out the buddy wheel number and ask them to sit with their partners and share their papers. I show them on the board that we are now on number 2 and that they will now have 20 minutes to do numbers 2 and 3. 

I circulate around to listen to student ideas and to talk to groups about their designs. I remind groups that they are making a model if their designs begin to need motors, lights, etc. I also remind students after 10 minutes and after 15 minutes about how far along they should be. 

Sharing Our Designs

5 minutes

In order to encourage students to engage in scientific discussions and to listen to and make sense of the reasoning of others, I say to students, "You will now have 5 minutes to meet with another group that I will assign. You are to share your design and why you picked the materials you did. As a listening group, you will want to ask questions about their design such as, 'how will the ball keep going if there is so much uphill space' or 'how will you stand the material up so it doesn't fall down?' Both sharing and asking questions are very important. When you are an engineer designing a new amusement ride, you would share your design with lots of people to get new ideas. If you realize that something is missing from your design, or you get a good idea from your new partners, it is ok to change your design. At the end I will ask for a thumbs up if you shared your idea, and also a thumbs up if you asked a question. I will also give you 5 minutes to make any changes in your design that you might have thought of, or gathered ideas from your discussions." Journal Page Roller Coaster Sketch

I do not give input on whether a design will work or not because I know that as students begin to build, they will adapt their designs through trial and error. I would rather have them discover why things work and how the shape plays a role in the design for themselves. I will meet with groups before day 2 if I feel that they have created a design that does not fit the confines of the materials and space allotted. I will help them to scale their design down to something that is manageable. 

I pair up groups and let them share their designs. At the end of 5 minutes, or when all groups are done I ask students, "please give me a thumbs up, straight or down to show if you think you shared your design with the other group. Now give me a thumbs up, straight or down to show if you asked a question or offered an idea to the other group." I praise students for their sharing.

Before the day ends, I invite students to make any adjustments to their designs so they are ready for the building day.

(This is the end of the first day of the lesson. I tell students that tomorrow they will have a chance to build their models.)

Building Our Models - Day 2

45 minutes

I begin today by calling attention to the I Can statement from the first day. I hand back the designs to each group and say, "today you will have a chance to build your model. I have left out the materials that you saw yesterday. There is also tape, glue and string to help you put your model together. If you find that you need additional materials that are not on the table, please come and ask and I will do my best to find them for you. You may use the bookshelves, walls, desks, chairs, etc. as part of the base for your roller coaster if you want to. I will also give each group a small ball so you can test your model as you build. Are there any questions?" 

I make sure students understand the task they have been given and then let them go to work. I circulate around to observe and to ask groups to explain their model to me. I also ask questions about why they have chosen certain materials. Working on the Model Coasters

Demonstrating Our Models

15 minutes

When we are getting near the end of our work time, or when most groups appear to be finished, I give students a 10 minute and then a 5 minute warning. I do this to help students bring closure to their projects. I want them to have time to build, but I also want them to realize that we will need to finish up within a given amount of time. (My schedule does allow for students to have finish up time in the early morning when the arrive if that is necessary.)

I ring the bell and tell students that now we will look at each design. The builders will demonstrate how the ball rolls through their roller coaster. I bring students to each design and let students demonstrate. I give each group 2 turns to show us their roller coaster before moving to the next group. One model coaster

When every group has demonstrated their roller coasters I ask students to clean up their roller coasters, return materials to the table and then return to their own seats. I tell them they are welcome to keep their roller coasters, but that they will have to take them home at the end of the day. I know that most are attached to chairs or walls and so saving them won't be possible. 

After the cleaning up is done I ask students to return to their seats to share their thoughts about what worked and what didn't. I say, "I would like you to share your thoughts with us about what you noticed that made a good roller coaster, or what didn't seem to work as well." I let students share what they noticed. This brings closure to this part of the lesson.

Adapting Our Designs - Day 3

30 minutes

The next day during a writing block, I ask students to think about what they saw with all of the roller coasters, and what they noticed about their own. I give them a piece of story paper with a place for a picture at the top and writing at the bottom. I say, "I would like you to think about your roller coaster and all the other ones that you saw. If you were to build another one, what would it look like? What things that you did would you keep, and what things from others might you try? I want you to draw your new roller coaster at the top of the paper and then tell what materials you might use this time at the bottom. For each material, tell why you might use it, such as, I would use the box because it can hold up the paper."

I give students about 25 minutes to draw their new roller coaster designs and to write about them. I collect these to use as part of my assessment of student understanding of how what materials are made out of and shaped like can be important when making something because not all materials or shapes are appropriate for every thing built.