Roller Coaster Physics: STEM in Action
Lesson Objective: Use knowledge of energy and motion to construct roller coasters
Grades 5-8 / Science / Motion

Thought starters

  1. How does "chiming" benefit both the teacher and students?
  2. Why does having more constraints make students better problem solvers?
  3. What strategies does Ms. Migdol use to get all students engaged in this project?
39 Comments
I love this lesson ! Ilove how the educator challenges the students and uses a budget manager for the design challenge. I have taught this lesson, but wll reteach it with some of the strategies used in this lesson.
Recommended (0)
Fabulous! So many layers make this lesson amazing!
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I love the activity. I just began teaching science as a special area in January. Can you tell me what materials were provided to the students? What size is the tubing, I am assuming that is foam pipe insulation?
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I really appreciated the way that Ms. Migdol incorporated all aspects of engineering design including costs and collaborative trouble shooting.
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Beautiful case study, with numerous pearls of wisdom by the teacher (more constraints rather than fewer, elicit misconceptions, etc.) and visible autonomy by kids even though the video understandably lets us listen in on her conversations.
Recommended (5)

Transcripts

  • STEM LESSON IDEAS
    ROLLER COASTER PHYSICS

    VO
    00:02:01 This teaching moment is made possible by Chase.
    00:02:08 [Stem Lesson Ideas]
    BOY [sync]

    STEM LESSON IDEAS
    ROLLER COASTER PHYSICS

    VO
    00:02:01 This teaching moment is made possible by Chase.
    00:02:08 [Stem Lesson Ideas]
    BOY [sync]
    00:02:14 You can make it bigger.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    You can’t use a chair. You can’t use props.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:02:18 My name is Donna Migdol and I teach STEM to fifth and sixth graders in the Oceanside school district in New York.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:02:25 Justin, someone has to be there to catch it.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:02:27 My fifth graders are involved right now in roller coaster physics where they have to create a roller coaster that is both fun and safe at the same time.
    BOY [sync]
    00:02:39 It was either not enough friction or too much momentum.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:02:41 They’re learning about potential and kinetic energy and they’re learning about Newton’s three laws of motion. And then trying to see that at work and at play within the design challenge.

    00:02:55 Last week they tested for the safety piece, to keep that marble on the track at all times and today the objective is that the students design the optimal coaster with the longest ride so that the marble gets to the very end without falling off.
    00:03:13 [Roller Coaster Physics]
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:03:15 So, today we’re going to be testing for fun. The fun that I want you to test for today is how that marble can get to the end of the track. That’s the piece of fun we’re trying today. Alright? But I really think that good engineers learn from- from what they experienced and tested beforehand. So, let-

    00:03:32 I want to do a chiming and think about the greatest challenge with safety that your group had.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:03:39 I started today’s lesson with something called chiming. They pick a chimer in each group and they tell about what trials and tribulations they had the week before in terms of the engineering design process and the other students take notes and then chime in.
    GIRL [sync]
    00:03:56 In our group, when we connected both of the foam installations, our marble came and then it kind of, like, jumped because it was kind of falling into the crack in the indentation, like-
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:04:09 First off, it absolutely is a formative assessment tool for me, to understand, to get a pulse of where the students are. And secondly, to promote autonomous learning where students value each other’s ideas and the learning does not have to go- pass through me. It goes directly from student to student and they start to honor each other’s ideas and they start to understand that they’re the ones that are the true problem solvers.
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:04:34 I think that the marble kept rolling off maybe because you need more speed. So, if you do a little bit of a hill and make it down, maybe it’ll gather more potential energy, so it’ll have the energy to make it across the loop.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:04:46 Communication is a huge part of engineering design. Otherwise, you know, their ideas would stay to themselves. They have to communicate their ideas and through that, they learn and they get smarter in terms of wid- widening their ideas about how the world works and how the physics world works.
    BOY IN STRIPES [sync]
    00:05:05 It had too little dissipated energy, so it had too much potential energy coming off the loop and then it would just, like, fly off the track.
    00:05:14 [Sketching Designs]
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:05:16 I want you now to do an individual sketch. I’m going to give you four minutes to do your individual sketch. Labels are important.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:05:24 Their individual sketches are a good way for me to assess what their ideas are, for them to do a self-assessment and for peer assessment.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:05:33 You must have if you’re thinking of clothoid loops, make sure you say the word clothoid. If you’re thinking of a small, medium or large loop, you must say that
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:05:42 I want them to show the science that they know. When they’re sketching out their idea if there’s a loop and they know that it’s centripetal force, they should put “centripetal force starts here.” What type of loop. We learned about the difference between- in engineering, between clothoid and circular loops, so they should label that clothoid.

    00:05:58 If they’re not sure about the exact amount of centimeters, either a medium, a short or a long rise and run.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:06:10 Any ideas that you have are in that sketch because that’s your way of communicating to the rest of your group how to sell your sketch as the design of the day- the first design of the day.
    GIRL [sync]
    00:06:20 So, I was thinking two small clothoid loops and then, like, a small hill after each one. And then a medium rise with a long run, so it’ll have enough kinetic energy to go around in the first loop and also tape at the end to cause friction.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:06:39 I like for them to do group- a group sketch because it gets them involved in the engineering design process – what it’s all about.
    BOY [sync]
    00:06:48 I think we- we use the sand paper to slow it down at the end.
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:06:51 Because it’s, like, all [unintell] and rugged.
    GIRL [sync]
    00:06:53 Because the tape wasn’t, like, helping that much because it wasn’t that, like, strong.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:06:57 You can’t have four different designs in one group. You have to come to one design. We don’t have the materials. We don’t have the time. So, they have to do a lot of team building and collaboration and come up with a consensus.
    GIRL WITH HEADBAND [sync]
    00:07:09 At the end, would sandpaper work? Because sandpaper and the marble rubbing together will cause friction.
    GIRL [sync]
    I did that too!
    00:07:17 [Computer Simulation]
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:07:19 So, now we’re going to take your sketch, your group sketch, and we’re going to go to the model simulator and you’re going to do two runs.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:07:28 When they’re on the simulator, it’s not just playing the game because they can never get away from what an engineer does.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:07:35 Remember, everyone, that the- the mass that you’re choosing, whether it be the small mass or the large mass that the amount of cars you use in the simulation duplicates that idea. So, if it’s small mass, you’re not going use more than two cars.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:07:51 They take post-its with them and they take their design portfolio. They map out their sketch and design it on the program. And then if they fail, what’s the failure? They write that down – like if it was stuck or if it crashed. And after that, they have to write why they think that happened and then they have to write one modification.
    BOY [sync]
    00:08:14 Okay, smaller rise.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:08:18 And they do the same process over again.
    BOY IN STRIPES [sync]
    00:08:20 Like, make this straight and then if you want to put sandpaper here, like, do it, like that.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:08:26 They’re really developing an understanding for systems thinking. So, if I take one part out of the system or I change one piece of that system, how does that affect how that system works? And that’s a big idea in science and that’s realized through this design challenge.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:08:42 Your first initial hill? It was up and why are you lowering it?
    BOY IN GLASSES [sync]
    00:08:48 We wanted to lose potential energy because we had too much kinetic energy and we didn’t want to crash at the end of the roller coaster.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:08:55 So, you’re thinking the higher the- the lower the rise, the less potential energy you’ll gather and less energy in the system? Okay.
    00:09:06 [Testing for the Longest Run]
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:09:08 Masking tape is now two for one today. Today only, two for one.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:09:14 I deliberately don’t give them many materials when they start a design challenge because I believe that the more constraints, the better problem solvers they become.

    00:09:22 They have a choice of two marbles for this design challenge. It’s a small mass and a larger mass.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:09:27 Why large mass and not small mass?
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:09:29 Because you want more- you want to store more energy.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    Okay. Here you go.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:09:34 The foam pipe insulation, two pieces per group and they can buy masking tape, as well. And then I throw in other materials as the inquiry grows.
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:09:44 Two sandpaper. Two- two decimeters of sandpaper.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    Sandpaper.
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    00:09:52 And one decimeter of rubber.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:09:55 Wow, you’re really spending a lot of money. You have all that money?
    GIRL WITH GLASSES [sync]
    Yeah.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    Okay.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:09:58 Today, I introduced sandpaper strips – decimeter strips – and rubber decimeter strips. And I introduced that because the problem last week was the students last week were having a hard time slowing that marble down. So, I decided to give them a little bit more incentive to use some of their knowledge of friction.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:10:17 Rubber. Why rubber and not sandpaper?
    BOY [sync]
    00:10:19 Because it seems like rubber would have more friction. And it seems more-
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:10:24 Is it less expensive or more expensive?
    BOY [sync]
    Less.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    Ok.
    GIRL WITH HEADBAND [sync]
    00:10:28 Can I feel the rubber?
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    You can feel. Feeling the material is great. You’re testing.
    GIRL [sync]
    00:10:32 Now we have a 75 inch rise.
    GIRL 2 [sync]
    Okay, 75. So, can somebody write that down? Barbara, can you write it down?
    GIRL 3 [sync]
    I can write that down, no problem.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:10:41 The students have assigned jobs, which is another key piece of the engineering design process. The measurer is recording the rise and the run of the design that they’re making when they’re building the loops.

    00:10:56 Also measuring the height and the width of the loops, as well.
    GIRL
    00:10:59 That’s, like, the rise and the run. How many centimeters it is. So, if it works, next- next week, we can, like, use it again.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:11:10 The role of the recorder in the process is they are writing down any ideas that they may want to capture. Either a great finding and a great question and any trade-offs and modifications.
    GIRL WITH HEADBAND [sync]
    00:11:24 We put tape to cause friction at the end because according to Newton’s First Law of Physics, the friction will cause the unbalanced force, stopping the motion, which is the ball movement.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:11:45 They match their learning styles or their strengths to what job they- they choose. And that’s a good assessment piece for me and it’s a good reflection for them, as well.
    BOY [sync]
    00:11:57 Oh yeah, that’s a smart idea.
    GIRL IN STRIPES
    00:11:59 I’m the organizer of the group. And I make sure that everyone’s doing their job, that everything’s recorded at the end of the day and make sure that all the accountings done. And I kind of keep track of who’s doing what, how it runs.
    GIRL IN STRIPES [sync]
    Okay, maybe this is, like, [unintell]
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:12:16 You’re the accountant?
    GIRL IN PINK [sync]
    Yeah.
    GIRL IN PINK
    00:12:18 I’m the accountant in my group and everything that we use in our roller coaster takes money off of our balance. We started with 23.60 and we ended with 12.40.

    00:12:34 Because we spent like a lot of money because we needed more materials to make our roller coaster successful.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:12:41 Giving students a budget to work with, with a design challenge is essential because it makes them think about, well, if I’m going to buy this, what idea do I have to trade for that. And that just creates better problem solvers. It also makes them better mathematicians because they have to do real world word problems as they are figuring out the money situation and keep a running balance.

    00:13:05 Adding and subtracting and multiplying decimals.
    GIRL [sync]
    00:13:09 So, I multiplied 27 cents times 10 and I got two dollars and 70 cents. And our total is decreasing, so we’re down to one dollar and 95 cents.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:13:22 What’s your prediction before you go?
    GIRL [sync]
    00:13:24 I think it will follow.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    You don’t think there’s too much energy in the system?
    GIRL IN PINK [sync]
    Because we also have a few [unintell]
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:13:36 When students are involved in the engineering design process, the math and science that they’re learning and applying into that design challenge kind of seamlessly come out. And with that so do student misconceptions.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:13:51 What are you going to modify first? You get one modification at a time.
    GIRL [sync]
    We have to make it so it has less energy.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:13:56 Less energy. So, do you think- Rebecca thinks adding a hill is going to give it less energy. So, let’s- here, follow my finger. So, you’re going up – what are you gaining?
    GIRL [sync]
    00:14:05 Potential. Then you get too much kinetic energy.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:14:07 So, does a hill take away energy from the system or add energy to the system?
    GIRLS [sync]
    Add. Add.
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:14:12 And that’s so key to a teacher. Because once you capture and have the space to really listen and see those misconceptions, the more you can then develop future lessons to deal with them.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:14:27 What is it gathering as it goes up?
    GIRL [sync]
    Potential.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    And what is it releasing as it goes down?
    GIRLS [sync]
    Kinetic.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    00:14:31 So, is that a fact?
    GIRLS [sync]
    Yeah.
    DONNA MIGDOL [sync]
    Is it- do you think that it’s either adding or taking away when you add another loop?
    GIRL [sync]
    00:14:37 Adding.
    GIRL 2 [sync]
    But yeah, we need a double loop because-
    DONNA MIGDOL
    00:14:40 And one of the key pieces for STEM for me as a teacher is to see the students welcoming problems. You don’t see that every time in- in the classroom. And when students can actually say, “Bring on the challenge. Here’s another problem. Now let me get my toolkit of strategies together to solve this problem.”

    00:15:03 That, to me, is immeasurable. And that is really the key in STEM, is creating lifelong problem solvers who have a problem, say, “Okay, now what do I have to do to modify it? How am I going to fix it?” It’s all about modification and making trade-offs. And working with that science and math to do that is a dream come true for a teacher.
    VO
    00:15:37 This teaching moment is made possible by Chase.

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