Roller Coaster Webquest

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Students will conduct a roller coaster Webquest to investigate the conservation of energy.

Big Idea

Roller coasters model the transfer from potential energy to kinetic energy and vice versa throughout the course of a single ride.


This lesson addresses the RI.11-12.7, HS-PS3-2, and HS-PS3-3 standards as a way to effectively conduct research using information gathered from multiple sources. Students research concepts related to energy conservation using the NGSS Practices of Developing and Using Models (SP2), Constructing Explanations (SP6) and Obtaining, Interpreting and Communicating Information (SP8) that illustrate the conservation of energy using roller coasters as a model.

WebQuests, introduced in this lesson, are attributed to Bernie Dodge and are described as an inquiry-driven project where most of the information that students gather to complete a set of tasks is derived from credible web-based sources. Some of the top reasons to use WebQuests are to facilitate a student-as-researcher mode of learning within a classroom. I think WebQuests are useful when there is a wide spread of student levels of understanding within my classroom.

This is a long term project which relates to the second-semester performance-based assessment on Energy and Work. The essential question for the second semester PBA is, "How does physics relate to roller coaster design?" and uses roller coasters to model the conservation of energy. Within this lesson, students will begin creating museum exhibits that help to answer this essential question like in the previous lesson.

During this lesson, students begin by logging into our class website and looking with their elbow partners at the WebQuest I post there. Students divide between them tasks and begin the WebQuest; some students choose to write information in a shared google document while others prefer to take notes in their lab notebooks. During the closure activity at the end of the lesson, I ask students to identify the most important and challenging parts of today's lesson in their notebooks.

Today's lesson is shorter than most of the lessons in my unit because today is a half-day schedule with 55-minute periods instead of block scheduling. I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins and assess each student's work at the end of the school day. I want students to learn to integrate information from various points of this course into a coherent summary on the nature of energy transfer mechanisms at different points on a roller coaster. This relates to (SP6) because students have to leverage skills like note taking to construct an explanation of energy changes within a roller coaster. One goal of this lesson is to help students learn that synthesizing information from more than one credible source is an effective way to communicate scientific information about the concept of "Energy Conservation".


5 minutes

This portion of the lesson begins with a routine where students write the objective and additional piece of information in their notebooks as soon as they enter the classroom. I project a slide with the date, the objective and an additional prompt on the interactive whiteboard with a red label that says "COPY THIS" in the top left-hand corner. Sometimes the additional prompt is a BIG IDEA for the lesson or the Quote of the Day or a Quick Fact from current events that is related to the lesson. The red label helps my students easily interact with the information as soon as they enter the room and avoids losing transition time as students enter the classroom.

Today's additional piece of information is a Big Idea which states that roller coasters model the transfer from potential energy and kinetic energy and vice versa throughout the course of a single ride. The objective of the bell-ringer is to give students a clear understanding of the focus of today's lesson.  I choose to use a Roller Coaster WebQuest instead of a set of notes because I want students to learn that conducting background research is an essential skill for studying and practicing physics.

Roller Coaster Webquest

45 minutes

During this portion of the lesson, I ask students to use Chromebooks to go to our class Edmodo page and open the Roller Coaster WebQuest link from our wall. At this point in the semester, students know how to use WebQuests by first reading the information on the welcome and introduction tabs. They then complete the assignments I post on the task and process tabs.  I ask students to spend five minutes discussing the WebQuest with their elbow partners since this is a pair driven activity.

After students spend the first five minutes deciding a plan of action, I ask them to spend the next forty minutes completing the WebQuest which is shown below. To complete the WebQuest students use the perspective of a new engineer who has to conducts background research to answer the essential question, "What does physics have to do with roller coaster design?" Students answer most the questions from the process and task tabs in their notebooks or in a shared google document. Some of the tasks ask students to create visuals that I provide poster or chart paper for them to complete.


During this portion of the lesson, students use Chromebooks to conduct research to build their oral defense on the connection between physics and roller coaster design. Some students take notes in their notebooks, or in a shared google document. While other students begin crafting small visuals to create their museum exhibits on physics and roller coaster design. Click herehere and here to see examples of student work.


5 minutes

The closure activity this section asks students to write in their notebooks, using a Headlines Routine, what they consider the most important or the most challenging part of today's lesson. Student responses include: "The kinetic energy is high when the roller coaster is moving", "The potential energy is highest at the start of a roller coaster", and "The Gravity Switchback was made by a Sunday School teacher who originally thought amusement parks were sinful places". 

To wrap up this section of the lesson, I ask students to look at the upcoming lab report due dates that I post on the class Edmodo wall. I also ask students to continue working on the Webquest outside of class to and to turn a draft for their Roller Coaster exhibition at the beginning of class the following week.