This lesson can be broken up into two separate lessons or one large science block, depending on schedule.
Roller Coaster Simulation: (15-30 minutes)
Students will need access to computers, individually or in pairs, to access the JASON Digital Lab Coaster Creator. They will be able to construct a roller coaster, adding hills and loops. Students will begin to see that the number of cars that they include, and the location of hills and loops is critical to their roller coaster reaching the end of the track without crashing. They can edit their track and train as many times as necessary.
There is a graph that shows the potential and kinetic energy at each point on the track as the train goes through the course. The students should be able to relate these concepts to modify their track.
Activity: (30-45 minutes)
Students will need the Marble Coaster Planning Guide, found in the Attachments section of this lesson plan. This gives them 5 spots to record changes that they make in their Roller Coaster and to target any problem areas.
Before they begin planning, show them the pieces of the foam "track," but do not allow them to get their materials until they show you their original design. Remind them that when they are holding the tubing, their hands should not get in the way of the track.
The group should work together to design a roller coaster that includes: an initial hill, an ending hill, one additional hill, and a complete loop. The marble must run the full distance of the track.
You will only check their design for necessary components. Do not correct their designs.
Once they have shown you their initial design, they are ready to get the two halves of their foam pipe insulation and their marble to test their design. They need to mark where the marble falls off the track or where the marble stops/rolls backwards.
They will need to "go back to the drawing board" after their first test to make edits. Before they test their design a second time, they need to make any edits to their design in the Trial 2 box.
At some point, a group might realize that force is the element that their group needs to change. They can just make note of that instead of drawing a new diagram.
**If a group is successful more quickly than other groups, you can up the challenge, by adding a jump/gap in the track.
It is important to make sure to leave time for a reflection period. Students can complete the reflection piece individually or as a group. The 2nd question is grade-specific to align with either 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade standards that correspond with this activity. Reflection questions can be found in the Attachments section of this lesson plan.