Using Crosscutting Concepts to Analyze Roller Coaster Data

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SWBAT: Analyze data to find patterns in their roller coaster data, leading to deeper understanding of energy.

Big Idea

The 'unsung heroes' of the NGSS are Crosscutting Concepts, because they connect various disciplines. Students will use patterns, structure and function, and cause and effect relationships to make connections between energy and roller coaster designs.


In the prior lesson, students were given very little information or direction when challenged to build a roller coaster and make connections to important physical science concepts. Now that students have investigated with foam tubes and marbles, they should have copious data that need analysis. Their analysis will enable them to make connections and see that certain shapes (CCC Structure and Function) lead to successful roller coasters, while others don't.  

Likewise, they can see that there are certain patterns that develop. Some students will come to the conclusion that if the height of hill 1 and loop 1 are too close in height, then the marble will not make it through the coaster. If students choose to analyze their data in terms of cause and effect, they may make similar connections to the previous Crosscutting Concepts.

The power of using science notebooks cannot be understated.  In order to promote a student-centric learning environment, we must use strategies that allow students' ideas to drive classroom interactions. It is never too late to set up a science notebook system in your classroom. I walk you through notebook setup in The Basics of Using Science Notebooks In Your Classes

Analysis of Data

35 minutes

I originally thought that I was going to ask students to analyze all 3 Crosscutting Concepts, including Patterns, Cause and Effect and Structure and Function. After careful consideration, I realized that students would end up at the same general conclusions from the data, regardless of which Crosscutting Concepts their group decided to choose.  

Patterns: Observed patterns in nature guide organization and classification and prompt questions about relationships and causes underlying them.

  • Macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure.

  • Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems.

  • Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

  • Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

In my first class, I decided to let classes choose which CCC to pursue and then had the remaining classes focus on Patterns.

I give students most of the class period to look at the data to find patterns or similarities and differences. They are given a handout to guide them through this process.  Through this process of analyzing and interpreting data (SP4), students are finding "meaning of data—and its relevance—so that it may be used as evidence."

I circulate around the room and capture in this video some questioning/probing done with students:


This video shows the benefit of students having their ideas recorded in a P.E.O.E. and in their data table. Makes data analysis easier and more transferable.  

Sharing Our Findings

15 minutes

Now that students have their analysis completed, it's time for them to share their findings with the class. The purpose of the activity isn't necessarily to have all of our answers of roller coasters and energy answered, so that we can move on. The idea is that, through a Constructivist Framework, students have an anchor experience that can be referenced throughout the unit.  In conjunction with the KLEWS chart, this conversation helps students to track their learning and develop questions about what they don't know or understand.

A strategy that works for this discussion is Jigsaw.  I ask students to pick one pattern -- Cause and Effect or Structure and Function, depending on which CCCs I choose for them to pursue.  Students then meet with another group and share one finding.  Then they compare and contrast their findings to see if there are more patterns that confirm or refute what they learned in their own group.  After they share their findings, everyone reports back to their original group and everyone summarizes what they found out from the other groups.

We have a class discussion about common patterns that developed in everyone's investigations. Students are then asked to write down any remaining questions they have in their KLEWS chart, which will drive future inquiry in the upcoming days.