ALEX Lesson Plan

Tower of Terror: Creating a Free Fall Ride

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Katrina McGrady
System: Talladega County
School: Talladega County Board Of Education
The event this resource created for:ASTA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34799


Tower of Terror: Creating a Free Fall Ride


In this activity, the students will be engineers who compete to create their own "safe" and fast free fall ride.  Using graphing and calculations, the students will calculate the fastest ride and determine the minimum and maximum passenger sizes that their ride will hold.  The team that designs the fastest ride that doesn't "hurt" the passenger(s) wins! 

This lesson results from a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and ASTA.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 9-12
Physical Science
7 ) Analyze and interpret data for one- and two-dimensional motion applying basic concepts of distance, displacement, speed, velocity, and acceleration (e.g., velocity versus time graphs, displacement versus time graphs, acceleration versus time graphs).

SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 9-12
Physical Science
8 ) Apply Newton's laws to predict the resulting motion of a system by constructing force diagrams that identify the external forces acting on the system, including friction (e.g., a book on a table, an object being pushed across a floor, an accelerating car).

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

I can use speed calculations, the engineering model, and force diagrams to create the fastest free fall ride that will not “hurt” the passenger.   

Additional Learning Objective(s):

Learning Targets:

Behavior:  I can create a fast AND safe free fall ride using engineering practices.   

Content:  I can calculate and graph the speed of the free fall ride with different passenger sizes to determine the minimum and maximum passenger size.  

Content:  I can identify and label the forces acting upon the free fall ride. 

This lesson addresses the following scientific and engineering practices:

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

91 to 120 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Styrofoam cups

Masking tape

Meter stick

Long Wooden dowel or piece of PVC (one per group)



Various Sizes of Balls for Passengers:  small, medium, large  (Make sure that you have enough per group so that various sizes of passengers can be used and tested.)

Graph paper (or computer with software that can be used to create a graph)

Calculators (if allowed for calculations)

Rulers (for scaled diagram and drawing the graph on paper)

*You may add or subtract materials from this list based on your students and your specialization of the lesson.*

Technology Resources Needed:

Computer with internet access linked to a projector or screen with sound capability

Document camera linked to a TV or projector OR iPad with app like Doceri connected to a TV

YouTube video to demonstrate a free fall ride 

Know/Need to Know Graphic Organizer

 *Optional:  Devices with software that can be used for graphing*


Students:  The students should have some BASIC knowledge of speed, displacement, velocity, and forces before completing this activity.  

Teacher:  Before starting this lesson, the teacher should decide whether groups will be limited to the same amounts of each resource or whether they can pick as many resources as they can from the “construction” items.  

The teacher will also need to decide how students will be grouped.  

The teacher will also need to obtain and arrange the “construction” materials prior to the lesson.  


Before/Engage:  (15 minutes)

Divide the students into groups.  Show a video with a free fall ride.  A clip from this YouTube video on the Disney Ride the Tower of Terror could be used to engage students.  

Tell the students that they are engineers that are being charged with the task of creating a free fall ride like the “Tower of Terror” that will be as fast as it can be WITHOUT hurting a “passenger.”  This means that the passenger will need to remain in their “seat” on the ride from beginning to end.  

If you want to give them specific item specs for the ride, this would be the time to give them.  (i.e. the ride must be 60cm tall and must land AT LEAST 5 cm from the floor or etc.)  

Ask the students what do you know that will help you create a fast and safe ride for the passengers.  Then, create a Know/Need to Know graphic organizer on the board or on chart paper.  Use student answers for formative assessment.  Guide them with questioning if they aren’t linking their task with their previous knowledge of force and motion concepts.  

Then, ask them what they will need to know to create a model of this ride and test it with various passengers.  Write their answers in the Need to Know section of the graphic organizer.  After they determine what they need to know, answer their need to know questions.  (i.e. what types of materials can be used, who will be the passengers, how many passengers does it need to seat, how tall does it need to be, etc.)

During/Explore:  (55 minutes)

Tell the groups that they will need to create a design plan on paper for their ride with the materials and item specs on their ride.  They should draw their design plan to scale as much as possible.  When each group finishes their plan, they should also label the forces and the direction of the forces that are acting upon their ride.   When complete, each group should call the teacher to their group to review their design plan with the design plan checklist and approve/reject it.  If it is rejected, they will have to fix the items that the teacher noted.  If it is approved, the group will then construct their “ride” and design a procedure for testing the ride on paper.  

When they have designed the testing procedure, they should call the teacher to approve or reject their plan for testing the ride.  If their testing plan is approved, they will test the ride and record their data.  If their testing plan is rejected by the teacher, they should fix the items the teacher noted and call the teacher again for approval.  *No group should move forward if they haven’t gotten approval on these two checkpoints.* Each student should obtain data on the maximum and minimum passenger sizes that will be able to safely ride the ride.  The students will do this by testing the ride with different sizes of passengers and record the maximum and minimum size or mass of passenger that the ride will hold without the "passenger" falling out of the ride. The teacher can provide marbles, ping pong balls, tennis balls, and baseballs, etc. as potential passengers to be tested.    If the instructor wishes to save time, the students can complete their ride with only one size of passenger. 


After groups have tested their designs, the students should explain their ride to the class and demonstrate their ride. They should explain their design and how they determined the maximum and minimum passenger size.  Each group will demonstrate their ride three times.  Each group will use stopwatches to obtain the time that it takes the ride to complete. The teacher will guide the class through taking the average time it takes each group’s ride to complete.  Then, the groups will take that average to graph and calculate the speed of each group’s ride.  Finally, each group will determine the fastest and safest ride in the class.  

*A prize may be given to the group who created the safest and fastest ride.*


Assessment Strategies

The teacher will use formative and summative assessments to determine if students can use speed calculations, the engineering model, and force diagrams to create the fastest free fall ride that will not “hurt” the passenger.

Formative assessment:  Student answers during the know/need to know graphic organizer creation, the design plan/the test plan, which are on the same handout

Summative assessment:  Student graphs of the speed and determination of the fastest and safest ride in the class, exit problem.  The students will calculate speed by measuring the height of the ride and dividing it by the time that it takes for the ride to end.  They can create their own data tables to do this.  Each group can measure the height of their ride and random students throughout the room can get the time.  I would have students average the time and use that average time to calculate the speed to reduce human error.  The students can also give the ride star safety ratings like the ones used in the automobile industry.  We used a scale of one to five stars, with five being the MOST safe. The students then used the safety star rating and the speed to determine the ride that was FASTEST and SAFEST based on their data and calculations.  I gave them a simple speed exit problem to do an individual assessment of their ability to calculate speed.  


The students can test and graph the speed of the ride with different sizes or shapes or numbers of passengers on the same trip.  


During the construction of the ride and the design, if a student has not mastered the basic concepts of force and motion concepts, the teacher can pull students for small group instruction activities to reteach the concepts using different strategies not previously used.  


View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.