Time to SCREAM for STE(A)M

Hey you physical science teachers out there! Have you wondered how to make motion an interesting lesson while also trying to infuse more STE(A)M inspired activities? Look no further, it’s time to build some ROLLER COASTERS!

Image result for roller coaster cartoon

Engage them: Show a Virtual Reality (VR) simulation of a Roller Coaster, tell them feel free to get goofy and make noises to it. If you’re comfortable facillitating a roller coaster like at a sporting event, go for it. Have them question what is driving the momentum (Which parts does it go fast? When does it go slower?) An example VR roller coaster clip can be found here: (watch from 32s to about 1m32s is the estimated time.)

Let them Explore: Divide the class up into roughly 4 groups (The bigger the groups, the better). They will be constructing their own roller coaster! Have each student come up with a design for their roller coaster to present to the larger group. Also have each team come up with a name for their ride.

Image result for roller coaster sketch

Explain: Tell the class that every team will be competing to build the fastest roller coaster. Have a class-wide discussion to help them get to the point that these roller coasters will be driven by gravity and that fastest, in this sense, will be calculated by average velocity.

Elaborate: It’s now time to break out the materials. Pipe insulation makes great track for your roller coasters at only $2 per 6 feet of it. Allow the students to use duct tape as well as any materials you have laying around (be as rigid as you need for this rule, I know in my high school we were able to use chairs, the ceiling, and meter sticks to support the coaster, amend this to how you need). Glass marbles will be the “coaster” and it will start at the top of the track. Students are free to take ideas from one another in the group and fix the coaster until it can have the marble tread the entire track as well as amend the coaster to make it faster.


(I must give all credit to my own high school Physical Science teacher, Laura Rettig for this Learning Cycle process that I remember from High school. These three pictures were taken from her class Facebook page. You can find actually quite a bit of different chemistry and physical science experiments on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Rettigclass/)

Evaluate: Incentive the fastest, or most cool (through maybe other teachers coming in), most consecutive loops (feel free to come up with more creative superlatives), and evaluate everyone by accuracy in their calculation of the roller coasters acceleration, average velocity, etc.

Enjoy engaging your students in a real world, fun application of a physics topic of physical science!



  1. Wyatt,
    I think roller coasters are such a fun thing to have kids do to experience potential and kinetic energy right in front of their faces while also having them strongly consider those two competing factors to get that intrinsic satisfaction of making a successful one. It’s also something that can be changed so widely based on the age group in terms of materials and requirements. You might not ask fifth graders to make loops for instance. This is actually what the teacher I’m working with in field was doing with the students last Friday! Also, if you’re close to an amusement this can lend itself to a field trip to it – if you can make a convincing proposal and absolutely RINSE the school for money.

    I like your learning cycle, I just can’t really pick out a content backbone to it. I know you mentioned things like motion and momentum but those are really broad topics to use this as an intro for and it might be better served at the end of the unit. Also I like that you make them name it – I feel like, however small it may be, makes them a little more attached and motivated to succeed!

  2. Wyatt,

    I really love the rollercoaster idea! I think its fun and exciting and making it a bit of a competition can further motivate the students. I love that you’re relating momentum, gravity, acceleration, etc. to a real life situation that they most likely like or are interested in. How can you maybe let them explore the concepts more that they learned or observed in engage, in the explore part, rather than just come up with a design for their roller coaster? Overall, fun and creative ideas!

    • Claire,
      Thank you for your nice comment! It was definitely a super fun activity we did in the classroom. A way to incorporate explore may be to think about how the physics topics relate to multiple real world things and then I could narrow it more in the elaborate (put the designing in there instead of the explore). Thank you!

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