Roller Coaster Problem Based Learning Project, Day 1

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Students will be able to build a roller coaster and calculate work, power, kinetic energy, potential energy and speed at various points of the coaster.

Big Idea

Students build a roller coaster that demonstrates conservation of energy.

Review Roller Coaster Requirements

10 minutes

The goal of this lesson is for students to be able to work with their groups to create a plan to actually build a roller coaster that will give them data to solve for work, power, energy and speed at various points in the roller coaster. Students use 1 meter pieces of pipe insulation to build the coaster attached by masking tape and supported by materials in the classroom. The roller coaster cart is a marble.

This project has two purposes for my class: to give students an opportunity to engage in part of the engineering process and to give them a performance task that they can show what they have learned throughout the unit. Students engage in constructing a real model of a roller coaster (SP2) and going through the process of trial and error to find what works best for students to work (SP6). At the end of the project, students are able to collect different pieces of data and use that to help them solve for work done by the coaster, power of the marble on the coaster's first hill, potential and kinetic energy at any point of the coaster, and the speed at any point of the coaster (SP3). This project helps me to see if students can apply what they have learned in this unit mainly concerning conservation of energy (HS-PS3-1, HS-PS3-2).

To start out the lesson, I pass out another copy of the Roller Coaster PBL Letter for each group to read through. Since we have read this before, I want to just remind them what their goal is in building the roller coaster and collecting data to solve for different quantities. After students read through the letter, I have them tell me the requirements for the roller coaster and what quantities they will need to solve for and what data they will be collecting.

Roller Coaster Planning Time

30 minutes

Students begin their planning time by looking through the Roller Coaster Report to see what is expected of them for the end product that will be graded. Their report must include a sketch of their roller coaster that they will build including some numbers. To help them in creating a successful roller coaster, I ask students to put their plan onto the same simulation program they used earlier in the unit. A successful roller coaster is one where passengers do not fall off of the coaster and comes to a safe ending. I give students about 30 minutes to plan because I want them to make sure it will work in the simulation prior to actually building it. As students work in the simulation, I ask them to make the simulation proportional to the drawing that they made. So if they start at 1 meter, the simulation should start at 50 meters to make it realistic.

When students are done with the simulation and have a successful roller coaster, I ask them to take a screenshot and send it to me so that I can print a copy to attach to their report. I want them to be able to refer to their plan during their work. This also helps them to see where they start from after they make changes. When they are done building the actual roller coaster, I take a picture of their roller coaster and print it for them so they can reflect on the changes that they made. 

Roller Coaster Practice Building

20 minutes

After students have created a successful simulation, I allow them to start building their roller coaster. Most of the building time in the class period is focused on connecting the foam track pieces together into one long piece, determining a starting location where they will build from and testing their simulation out.

To start out, I give each group four 1 meter pieces of pipe insulation that has been cut in half. This serves as the track for the marble and is the longest that their roller coaster can be. At this time, I give students the marble to represent their roller coaster cart. They get a cup to hold their marble that they put their initials on so they do not get it mixed up with any other group, since each marble has a slightly different mass. Then I give them about half a meter of masking tape at a time. I ration the tape because if I allow students to take as much as they want they tend to waste it.

Once groups have all of their materials, they can find a starting location where they want to begin their roller coaster. I tell students that the coaster needs to be 1 meter off of the whatever surface their coaster is above (table, floor, etc.). When they are choosing a location, I also tell them that they cannot go where another group has started or where their coaster interferes with another group's coaster.

As they are working, I walk around and make sure students are following the design they created in the simulation and getting started. Each group will have to take their coaster down and rebuild the next day, so I have students mark on the wall, table or floor where they have part of their roller coaster touching. The testing occurs on the next day, so I have students keep their roller coaster together, but put it off to the side so that other classes may work. It is hard for students to get building done in one period, so I like for them to have some opportunity to build, test and come back the next day after they have had some time to think about their design. Some pictures of my students working are shown below.