Designing a Roller Coaster Using the Law of Conservation of Energy (Potential/Kinetic Energy)

Area of Science:

Physics, Physical Science, Engineering , Math

Grade level:


Age of students:


Total time:

320 Minutes

Preparation time:

20 Minutes

Teaching time:

5 hours

Teahing methodology to be used:

-Project-Based Learning

This method encourages students to learn skills and apply their knowledge by taking part in a project. They work for an extended period to research and create a solution to a problem or query. Your role as a teacher is to be a facilitator and encourage students to take full control of their projects from start to finish.

– Using the Engineering Design Process (EDP)

This is a series of steps students can take to design solutions to problems as part of a project. This project-based learning strategy should encourage open-ended designs, creativity and practical solutions.The steps of EDP:

ASK:  Students identify the problem, requirements that must be met, and constraints that must be considered.

IMAGINE: Students brainstorm solutions and research ideas.  They also identify what others have done.

PLAN: Students choose two to three of the best ideas from their brainstormed list and sketch possible designs, ultimately choosing a single design to prototype.

CREATE: Students build a working model, or prototype, that aligns with design requirements and that is within design constraints.

TEST: Students evaluate the solution through testing; they collect and analyze data; they summarize strengths and weaknesses of their design that were revealed during testing.

IMPROVE: Based on the results of their tests, students make improvements on their design. They also identify changes they will make and justify their revisions.

Key concepts:

Potential &Kinetic Energy, Law of Conservation of Energy, Gravity


In this lesson, students will learn to think and design like an engineer by utilizing the engineering process to design a roller coaster using pipe insulation, marbles, and objects within the room.. Computer simulation programs will aid in finding different ways roller coasters can be designed, taking into account variables like height, velocity, gravity, and the roller coaster path. The students will be divided into groups where they will learn to interact and work in a team setting because Engineers need to be great communicators! First, they will go through a presentation highlighting how roller coasters are designed, and the physics behind why they work. They will plan out their design using the fundamental principles they learned in the presentation. Lastly, the students will create a roller coaster using flex pipe insulation as the structure, tape, and a marble representing the cart full of passengers. They can be as creative as they want, using materials found around the room to help with their structure and path. Students will design, evaluate, and improve throughout the lesson, experiencing the process engineers go through on a daily basis!

Student mission


You are president of an engineering firm that designs and builds roller coasters. Vialand has just commissioned you and your team of highly trained and specialized engineers to design their new roller coaster. This is to be the premier roller coaster in the world. It is to be faster and more thrilling than any other coaster that exists today.

Your new roller coaster must have at least on hill, one loop, one corkscrew, and one turn. Your group must first create a design for your roller coaster and a name for it. You need to create a new sign with your roller coasters name on it as well. Once your design and name have been approved, you will create this roller coaster with the supplies given. Once the roller coaster is completed, you will do time trials with different marbles to see how fast the marble is traveling. Each group will be graded on the creativity of your project and if you met all of the criteria. At the end of this project, the class will vote on which roller coaster had the best overall design.

Design a safe and fun roller coaster using available materials!


1-Build a roller coaster that has 2 hills OR 1 loop and 1 hill.

2- A marble will be used as the vehicle for your marble roller coaster.

3- The marble must travel the entire length of the roller coaster to be considered


1.Construct a rollercoaster that has at least 2 high points (the start can be one) where you can observe potential energy converting to kinetic energy.

a.Identify these areas with a toothpick

2.You may use any of the provided materials to construct your rollercoaster

3.Record your Hypothesis as an “If— Then—-” statement based on which area will have the greatest potential energy (Annex 4.)

4.You must name your ride!

5.Run the marble through the rollercoaster 10 times to determine an average velocity in m/s. You will record in the data Roller Coaster Design Handout (Annex 3.)

6.Determine the potential energy using the equation you provided in the warm up.

After you have successfully completed the basic project and your teacher has approved your design, you may modify it for extra credit points: additional hills, loops, and/or your marble stopping within 15 cm off the end.  See rubric for scoring!

21st century technical skills gained through this activity

  • Information and communication technology (ICT) literacy
  • media and internet literacy
  • data interpretation and analysis
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity and innovation
  • problem solving, decision making
  • Technology operations and concepts
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination.
  • Project Management
  • Project Planning
  • Effective Team Work
  • Time Management Skills
  • Crisis Management

Mechanical engineers: design the roller coaster, how the cart is going to hold on to the track, how it moves throughout the ride, how the breaks and mechanics work, etc

Electrical engineers: work on the moving electrical components, work with the computer engineer to make sure the circuit boards, and control panel all work.

Computer engineers: work on the computer system that controls the roller coaster

Structural engineers: make sure it is structurally sound, they build all of the white structures you can see on the picture,  make sure it will stay standing!

Chemical engineers: gas propulsion for some roller coasters

Aerospace engineers: make the carts aerodynamic so they don’t have as much friction and can go as fast as possible

Material engineers: decide what materials to use for each part that will work the best and be the cheapest, withstand the weather in different areas of the world

Transportation Engineers: It’s similar to designing a very curvy, complicated road!

Engineering is all about working together! All of these different kinds of people work to make something fun for people to enjoy. It is all about finding solutions to problems helping people and improving their lives.

Differentiation strategies to meet diverse learning needs

  • Design lesson based on students’ learning styles.
  • Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
  • Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
  • Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Create individual learning pathways to support the unique needs of each student
  • Peer Mentoring

Lesson plan

Eight 40 minutes lessons

Time to complete Lesson

Students build their own small-scale model roller coasters using pipe insulation and marbles, and then analyze them using physics principles learned in the associated lesson. They examine conversions between kinetic and potential energy and frictional effects to design roller coasters that are completely driven by gravity.

Engineering Connection

During the design of model roller coasters, students encounter many of the same issues that real-world roller coaster engineers address. In order to build working roller coasters, students must recognize the constraints placed on their designs and the design of real roller coasters by the fundamental laws of physics. Students learn that their ability to understand and work within these constraints is paramount to the success of their roller coasters.

After this project, students should be able to:

  • Explain why it is important for engineers to understand how roller coasters work.
  • Explain in physics terms how their model roller coasters work.
  • Discuss the effects of gravity and friction in the context of their roller coaster designs.
  • Use the principle of conservation of energy to explain the design and layout of roller coasters.
  • Identify points in a roller coaster track at which a car has maximum kinetic and potential energy.
  • Identify points in a roller coaster track where a car experiences more or less than 1 g-force.
  • Identify points in a roller coaster track where a car accelerates and decelerates.
  • talk about the characteristics and physics that go into how a roller coaster works.
  • learn about kinetic and potential energy, and how they interact with gravity, height, and velocity.
  • identify the different types of engineering that is involved in building a roller coaster.
  • use the engineering process: Ask, imagine, plan, create,test, improve
  • Conduct investigations into the relationships between and among observations, and gather and record qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Work collaboratively on problems; and use appropriate language and formats to communicate ideas, procedures and results
  • Illustrate the development of science and technology by describing, comparing and interpreting mechanical devices that have been improved over time.
  • Investigate and describe the transmission of force and energy between parts of a mechanical system.
  • Explain and apply concepts used in theoretical and practical measures of energy in mechanical systems.
  • Apply concepts of force, mass and the law of conservation of momentum to investigate one-dimensional collisions of two objects.
  • Apply the principles underlying the motion of objects to explain the need for safety devices and practices.
  • Describe one-dimensional motion of objects in terms of displacement, time, velocity, and acceleration.
  • Identify situations in which kinetic energy is transformed into potential energy and vice versa.
  • Invent a product to meet a need.
  • Create a prototype and final model, taking design criteria into consideration.
  • Use science, math and engineering principles to design and optimize a product.


Expected Learning Outcomes

Civil engineers design structures like roller coasters, bridges, and buildings.

Energy: The ability to cause changes in matter

Potential Energy: The energy an object has because of its position or its condition

Kinetic Energy: The energy an object has because of motion

Motion: The change in position of an object

Force: A push or a pull, which may cause a change in an object’s motion

Gravity: The force of attraction between two objects

Friction: A force that acts between two touching objects and that opposes motion

Acceleration: A vehicle’s capacity to gain speed

Balanced and unbalanced forces:
A balanced force results whenever two or more forces act upon an object in such a way as to exactly counteract each other. As you sit in your seat at this moment, the seat pushes upward with a force equal in strength and opposite in direction to the force of gravity. These two forces are said to balance each other, causing you to remain at rest. If the seat is suddenly pulled out from under you, then you experience an unbalanced force. There is no longer an upward seat force to balance the downward pull of gravity, so you accelerate to the ground.

Centripetal force: A centripetal force is a net force that acts on an object to keep it moving along a circular path.

g: A g is a unit of acceleration equal to the acceleration caused by gravity. Gravity causes free-falling objects on the Earth to change their speeds at rates of about 10 m/s each second

İnertia: Inertia is a tendency of an object to resist change in its state of motion.

Mass: The mass of an object is a measurement of the amount of material in a substance.

Momentum: Momentum pertains to the quantity of motion that an object possesses. Any mass that is in motion has momentum.

Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line will remain at rest or in the same uniform motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. This is also known as the law of inertia.

Newton’s Second Law of Motion: The acceleration of an object is directly proportional to the total unbalanced force exerted on the object, and is inversely proportional to the mass of the object (in other words, as mass increases, the acceleration has to decrease). The acceleration of an object moves in the same direction as the total force. This is also known as the law of acceleration.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion: If one object exerts a force on a second object, the second object exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the object body. This is also known as the law of interaction.

Period: A motion that repeats itself in cyclic fashion is said to be periodic. The time for one complete cycle is known as the period of the motion. The motion of a second hand has a period of 60 seconds. The periodic rotation of the earth about its axis is 24 hours.

Speed: Speed is a measurement of how fast an object is moving.


Roller coasters at amusement parks utilize potential energy and kinetic energy. Typically, a motor pulls up the roller coaster car to gain its initial potential energy. Once at the peak point, no motors are connected to the car in any way. The car begins its winding and looping decent along a track that has been designed to safely convert potential energy into kinetic energy while making it a thrilling ride.

If the car goes through a loop-de-loop and does not have enough kinetic energy, it will not stay on the track as it reaches the peak of the loop. Kinetic energy is measured as KE=(mv2)/2, where m is the mass of the object and v is the velocity. Potential energy is measured as PE=mgh, where m is the mass, g is the gravitational force, and h is the distance above the reference point where the mass starts.

Ideally, all the potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, but in reality, this never holds true, since some of the energy is lost to friction. Because of the loss of energy, the peak of the loops must be lower than the initial starting point of the car.

  • The top of the first hill must be the highest point on the roller coaster.
  • Cars move fastest at the bottoms of hills and slowest at the tops of hills.
  • Friction converts useful energy into heat and must be minimized.
  • G-forces greater than 1 occur at the bottoms of hills.
  • G-forces less than 1 occur at the tops of hills.
  • To avoid falling, cars must have a certain velocity at the tops of loops.

Kinetic Energy :

Kinetic Energy:

Potential Energy:

Potential Energy:

Energy Transformation on a Roller Coaster:

Roller Coaster Model Interactive:


Prior knowledge and vocabulary

Use the Scientific Inquiry model and the Test Your Idea template to help you with your investigative question. See Annex I. and II.

Science and Engineering/Math Practices

F.7.3. Force and Energy / Physical Events

F.7.3.2. Force, Work and Energy Relationship

F. Associating energy with the concept of work, classifies it as kinetic and potential energy.

  1. Potential energy is classified into gravitational potential energy and elastic potential energy.
  2. It is stated that potential energy depends on mass and height, and kinetic energy depends on mass and speed.

F.7.3.3. Energy Conversions

F. Based on the conversion of kinetic and potential energy types, he concludes that energy is conserved.

F. Explain the effect of friction force on kinetic energy with examples.



9.3.1. MOVEMENT AND FORCE Classifies the movements of objects. Relates the concepts of position, distance, displacement, speed and velocity with each other. Relates the concepts of position, velocity and time for uniform linear motion.

  1. a) Students are provided to collect data by experimenting or simulations, to draw position-time and velocity-time graphs, to interpret them and to make conversions between the graphs drawn.
  2. b) Students are provided to draw and interpret mathematical models related to motion by using graphics. Explain the concept of average speed. Relates the concept of acceleration with acceleration and deceleration events. It explains the motion of an object according to different reference points.

9.3.2. FORCE Explain the concept of force with examples.

9.3.3. NEWTON’S LAWS OF MOVEMENT Explains the motion states of objects under the effect of balanced forces with examples. Explain the relationship between the concepts of force, acceleration and mass. Explains action-reaction forces with examples.

9.3.4. FRICTIONAL FORCE Analyzes the variables on which the friction force depends.


9.4.2. MECHANICAL ENERGY It analyzes the variables on which translational kinetic energy, gravitational potential energy and elastic potential energy depend.

9.4.3. CONSERVATION OF ENERGY AND ENERGY CONVERSIONS It deduces that the total energy is conserved in the transformation of energy from one form to another (such as mechanical, heat, light, sound).

11.1.3. NEWTON’S LAWS OF MOVEMENT Calculates the magnitude of the net force by determining the direction. Analyzes the movements of objects with initial velocity in the vertical direction and with constant acceleration. Analyzes the motion of objects using the conservation of mechanical energy. Analyzes energy conservation and transformations on friction surfaces. Calculates the conservation of linear momentum.

Curriculum Alignment

Engage: Teacher helps students reflect on what they already know and identify any knowledge gaps. It is important to foster an interest in the upcoming concepts so students will be ready to learn. Teachers might task students with asking opening questions or writing down what they already know about the topic. This is also when the concept is introduced to students for the first time.

1st Lesson

  1. Roller Coaster Presentation (20 min)


  1. Ask the students to think of their favorite roller coaster or thrill ride (allow time for students to share with a partner).
  2. Ask “What characteristics made the coaster so much fun?”
  3. Introduce the project based activity: “You are part of a civil engineering company asked to submit a project for the next great roller coaster.Your coaster should be fast, fun, and safe. We will use this pipe insulation (show) for the track and a marble for the car.”

Materials: Computer and projector

Preparation: [5 ] Minutes

Facilitation of Learning Experience: [20 ] Minutes

Transition: [15 ] Minutes

Teacher will: Show students the presentation,ıntroduce the project based activity ,  introduce engineer design thinking and how it’s used to create roller coaster, engage the students by asking them questions, allow time for the students to answer or have them take a guess, , introduce the next activity

Students will:Whatch the presentation ,take notes , ask questions and discuss about roller coasters


Explore: During the exploration phase, students actively explore the new concept through concrete learning experiences. They might be asked to go through the scientific method and communicate with their peers to make observations. This phase allows students to learn in a hands-on way.

2nd Lesson

Design Simulations (40 min)

Students will independently work on the design simulations. They should try each simulation, since they focus on different design principles. These are free websites they can also go on in their free time.

After about 15-20 minutes, have students pair up and discuss what they learned from the

simulations. Refer students to answer for the focus questions.

  1. What worked, what didn’t?
  2. How did you decide to test the different variables?

iii. Did you keep one thing constant? Change all the variables at once?

  1. What variable seemed to make the biggest impact?


3rd Lesson

Building Activity

  • Divide students into teams of three or four.
  • Bring the students back together and ask them to think about the following questions:

-What force causes the car (marble) to move?

-What force causes the marble to slow down and eventually stop?

-How could you increase or decrease the speed of the marble?

-At which point on the track does the marble have the most potential energy?

-At which point on the track does the marble have the most kinetic energy?

  • Have groups start designing their roller coasters, brainstorming and sharing ideas and agreeing on a design. Have students draw their roller coasters on paper, name them, and make signs. Allow up to 30 minutes for this. Look over their drawings to ensure that their proposed designs are physically possible. If not, point out those aspects of the roller coaster design that they may want to rethink. Give them time to iterate their designs.

4th Lesson

  • Pass out the Roller Coaster Design Handout (Annex 3.) to each student. Review the challenge and introduce the design constraints. Tell the students that they may tape to walls, chairs, and other materials in the room, but they may not hold up the roller coaster during testing—it must be free standing.
  • Introduce the Engineering Design Process . Review each step (Ask,Imagine,Plan, Create, Test, Improve) and tell the students that they will use this process to work through the project.
  • Divide the students into teams of three or four (may be the same or different from Day 1). Allow 15 minutes for students to discuss ideas and develop a plan
  • Pass out two lengths of pipe insulation, one roll of masking tape, one marble, and one plastic cup to each team. Allow exactly 30 minutes for teams to construct a roller coaster and check it against the design constraints.
  • At the end of 30 minutes, stop all teams and complete a final safety check (1 run). Teams that are not successful may be allowed time to redesign prior to completing time trials on next lesson.

5th Lesson

  • Once a team’s roller coaster has passed the safety check, tell the team to complete 10 time trials, recording the time from top to bottom to the nearest hundredth of a second.
  • The team will calculate and record the marble’s average time (calculators optional).
  • The team will calculate and record the marble’s average speed (m/sec).
  • Develop a class chart to compare the average speed of each team’s marble.
  • Analyze the data—ask the students to consider possible reasons for differences (e.g., What is the relationship between a roller coaster’s average speed and number of loops?)


Each group needs:

  • 2-meter (6 foot) long foam tube (1/2″ pipe insulation) cut in half lengthwise (Usually, one side of the tube comes perforated, making it easy to use scissors or a utility knife to cut through the perforation and the other side of the tube to form two halves, essentially making two long channels perfectly shaped to hold marbles; thus, one cut tube provides the track material for two groups
  • glass marble
  • wooden marble
  • steel marble
  • paper or plastic cup
  • roll of masking tape
  • set of markers, crayons or pencils
  • blank sheet of paper
  • stopwatch


Preparation: [ 10] Minutes

Facilitation of Learning Experience: [ 20 ] Minutes

Transition: [110 ] Minutes

Teacher will: Introduce the activity and what students will be doing. Monitor and guide the students as they build a roller coaster.

Students will: Students will work in groups of 3-4 to build a roller coaster that will function properly (get the marble from the start to the end of the roller coaster with constant


Students will write down their results, what worked and what didn’t work for their roller coaster


Explain: This is a teacher-led phase that helps students synthesise new knowledge and ask questions if they need further clarification. For the Explain phase to be effective, teachers should ask students to share what they learned during the Explore phase before introducing technical information in a more direct manner, according to “The 5E Instructional Model: A Learning Cycle Approach for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching.” This is also when teachers utilise video, computer software, or other aides to boost understanding.

6th Lesson

Gravity is a non-contact force that acts on the car (marble), pulling it toward earth.

-Newton’s 1st Law of Motion states that an object in motion will remain in motion, in the same direction, and at the same speed, unless acted upon by another force.

-Friction between the car and track is a contact force that slows motion.

-The amount of potential energy of a roller coaster is related to its position. The coaster has the most potential energy at the highest point. It has the most kinetic energy at the highest speed.

Reflection Questions

  1. How does the starting position of the marble affect the speed of the marble at the end of the first hill?
  2. What happens to the marble’s energy as it goes up a hill and slows down?
  3. Would a marble ever be able to get over a hill higher than its initial starting height? Why?
  4. How would using a different sized marble affect its initial potential energy?
  5. If a life-sized version of your roller coaster was built would you ride it? Why


Preparation: [0 ] Minutes

Facilitation of Learning Experience: [ 15] Minutes

Transition: [ 25] Minutes

Teacher will: Ask students why or why not their roller coaster functioned properly?

Students will: The students will think of ways to make roller coasters better.

They will ask the group questions on why they structured the roller coaster the way they did.


Elaborate: The elaboration phase of the 5E Model focuses on giving students space to apply what they’ve learned. This helps them to develop a deeper understanding. Teachers may ask students to create presentations or conduct additional investigations to reinforce new skills. This phase allows students to cement their knowledge before evaluation.

7th Lesson


for a student-friendly description of civil engineering, and to explore other fields of engineering.

-Explore Newton’s Laws of Motion at

Materials:Computers,laptops,mobile phones

Preparation: [5 ] Minutes

Facilitation of Learning Experience: [5 ] Minutes

Transition: [ 30] Minutes

Teacher will: Ask questions about how actual roller coasters are built in real life.

Students will: Answers questions


Evaluate: The 5E Model allows for both formal and informal assessment. During this phase, teachers can observe their students and see whether they have a complete grasp of the core concepts. It is also helpful to note whether students approach problems in a different way based on what they learned. Other helpful elements of the Evaluate phase include self-assessment, peer-assessment, writing assignments, and exams.

8th Lesson

Roller Coaster Design Handout (Annex 3.)

Roller Coaster Individual Written Response (Annex 5.)

Evaluation Quiz (Annex 8.)


Preparation: [0 ] Minutes

Facilitation of Learning Experience: [5 ] Minutes

Transition: [35 ] Minutes

Teacher will: Administers evaluation quiz that students will complete on their own.

Students will: Complete the evaluation quiz on their own.

Independent learning tasks (ILT): Provide two-three challenges to students to complete before the next lesson.

  • Students will research real life applications of what they have learned within the classroom.


At the end of each lesson, get the students to complete a summary of the lesson under these headings:

  • What we did today
  • What I liked best
  • What I didn’t like
  • What I want to do next

Student feedback

Science : Forces and motion,energy – Discovery

Math : Estimation and problem solving – Innovation

Social Studies : Historical perspectives – Inclusion

Computer Science : Logical Thinking – Teamwork


  1. Civil Engineering :
  2. What Do Civil Engineers Do?
  3. This Roller Coaster Engineer Creates World Famous Amusement Park Rides



Since most students have had real life experience with amusement parks, this project draws from this experience while exploring the construction of and Physics behind roller coasters.

Curriculum mapping of outcomes attained

Students will have achieved/understood the specific learning goal if they ask questions, use the engineering process during the activity, apply the physics principles from the powerpoint into their design, work to create a working roller coaster, work well in a team setting, and keep improving their design.

Pre-Activity Assessment

Discussion: Observe student participation in class discussion on potential and kinetic energy.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Observation: Observe student participation and contribution within groups during the preliminary and final design stages.

Post-Activity Assessment

Estimating Velocity: Have students estimate the velocity at the point where the kinetic energy is the highest (the lowest point of the track). Start by estimating the potential energy at the start (PE = m*g*h ) and then assume that all of this energy is converted to kinetic energy. Solve the equation KE = (1/2)mv2 for the velocity.

Graph: As a class, create a scatter plot of the maximum height of each track vs. calculated theoretical velocity. Discuss the relationship between the variables.

Recap: Assign students to individually describe their roller coaster designs with sketches, explaining what worked and what did not work. Review their recaps to gauge their depth of comprehension.

-Have each group present its roller coaster model to the class. Use the Roller Coaster  Scoring Rubric to evaluate the roller coasters for the class competition. Discuss the results as a class, asking students:

  • Which roller coasters were most exciting? Which were safest?
  • Which won for creativity? Which won for performance and safety?
  • Which model best met the overall challenge for both thrilling design and safety? What were the trade-offs? (Point to make: Engineers call this optimization, balancing competing project requirements.)
  • What did you learn from testing your model?
  • If you were to redesign your roller coaster, what improvements would you make and why?
  • What would happen if you/engineers ignored the fundamental laws of physics in your/their designs?
  • How important is it to you that engineers test their designs (for appliances, cars, bridges, stairways, roller coasters, etc.) before they are built and people use them?
  • What engineering design steps and techniques did we use today? (Answer: Brainstorming, modeling, simulation, testing, analyzing, redesign, optimization.)

Making Sense: Have students reflect about the science phenomena they explored and/or the science and engineering skills they used by completing the Making Sense Assestment(Annex 6.)

Jump to:


Materials used for the lesson :

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

At least two 6 foot (183 cm) sections of 1-1/2 in (about 4 cm) diameter foam pipe insulation

set of markers, crayons or pencils

Glass,wooden,steel marbles

paper or plastic cup

Utility knife

Masking tape

Tape measure

Bookshelf, table, or other support for roller coaster starting point


Gram scale for weighing marble, such as the digital pocket scale

Length of Masonite (smooth hardboard) for marble to travel on (for measuring velocity at different points along the track). You can glue the Masonite into a V-shape, and paint it with alternating stripes at 5 or 10 cm intervals. The V-shape keeps the marble going straight, and the stripes allow you to easily measure the distance the marble has traveled during a timed interval.

Optional: video camera

Online resources:

Presentation of the lesson :


  1. First Simulation Website:

This website is like a multiple choice test.  Demonstrate this to the students. First read the intro page. At the bottom of the page, click The Roller Coaster link.

Click on “Design a Roller Coaster”  and “begin”  to get started.

  1. Second Simulation Website:

This website is a great way to see the relationship between kinetic and potential energy in relation to the rollercoaster. You can change the height of the hill, add a hill or create a smooth path and see how the potential and kinetic energy differs. This is a great chance to observe how height has an effect on potential energy.

  1. Third Simulation Website:

This website allows you to make your own rollercoaster .You can add hills and loops, adjust the hill heights, the speed of your rollercoaster, the gravity, friction, and mass.

Read more about how Roller Coasters Work

Learn more about how roller coasters work and see some additional at home activities to learn about inertia and centripetal force

watch a video on the physics of roller coasters

Marble roller coaster activity

Paper roller coaster



Roller Coaster History


Information about roller coaster history and selected rides.

How Rollercoasters Work

TLC article on how rollercoasters work.

Roller Coaster Database

A searchable database of roller coaster statistics, covering more than 450 rides.


Objective: The goal of this project is to build a rollercoaster for marbles using foam pipe insulation and other materials to determine and calculate the places of potential and kinetic energy at various points along the track.

-Share/show what students are going to learn today and ask/explain WHY this is a valuable skill.

-Share the project general outline so students know what to expect. Try to evoke a sense of curiosity. (What Makes Roller Coasters Fun?/Today, You are Engineers!)

-Review any rules and expectations

– Before starting the lesson the class will participate in the entry event, which includes a class discussion. The class will discuss their knowledge of roller coasters and Physics terms. This discussion will help determine what knowledge the class already has.

– Before starting the roller coaster project the students will be asked to watch the following YouTube video as a class.

– The teacher will prompt the class with the question, “how are roller coasters related to science?”

– The teacher will then ask the class to share their personal experiences with roller coasters and amusement parks. Ask questions like:

Who has ever been on a roller coaster?

What is the scariest part?

Science….roller coaster…….what is the connection?

What allows the roller coaster to go through the loops and hills?

How do engineers design roller coasters that are fast, fun, and safe?

What is potential energy?

What is kinetic energy?

How do different forces affect the motion of objects?

How does energy cause motion or create change?

Team Work

The RollerCoaster project is where students come together as a team to build a complete roller coaster. This project based activity is aimed to motivate and energize students. They learn about project management and the importance of collaborating effectively as a team. This understanding gets applied to the work scenario as well. Roller Coaster is an exciting activity where students have to build an entire roller coaster with the materials provided to them. It should be designed in such a way that the marble is able to run along the track solely with the help of gravity.


Scale of Independent Work
  Zero Independence A lot of Help with Some Independence Semi Independent Fully Independent
  Teacher gives students a full method with clear instructions for how to carry out the experiments & engineering design. Teacher gives students an outline for the procedure but allows options* at different steps. Teacher gives students an outline for the procedure to carry out the experiments& engineering design but with some options in technique and equipment. Teacher specifies the procedures. Students research the method to carry out for the preparation of the experiment & engineering design. Students research methods to carry out the experiments& engineering design, using the equipment provided. Students research methods for carrying out the experiment & engineering design and choose the methods and equipments to use.
Observation and Assessment of Competencies
Follow written and oral procedures Students follow written and oral instructions Students follow written and oral instructions, making individual choices in technique or equipment. Students follow a method they have researched Students follow a method they have researched
Safely uses a range of practical equipment and materials Students must safely use the equipment. Students must safely use the equipment. Students minimise risks with minimal prompting. Students must carry out a full risk assessment and minimise risks.
Apply investigative approaches and methods when using instruments and equipment Students must correctly use the appropriate equipment. Procedure should be followed methodically and appropriate variables measured or controlled. Students must correctly use the appropriate equipment.

Procedure should be followed methodically and suitable variables identified, measured and controlled.

Students must correctly select and use the appropriate equipment. Procedural steps should be well sequenced and adjusted where necessary. Suitable variables identified, measured and controlled. Student must choose an appropriate methodical approach, equipment and techniques. Procedural steps should be well sequenced and adjusted where necessary. Suitable variables should be identified for measurement and control. Where variables cannot be readily controlled, approaches should be planned to take account of this.            
Makes and records observations Students record data in specified ways. Students record accurate data in specified ways. Students record precise and accurate data, methodically using appropriate units, in specified ways. Students must choose the most effective way of recording precise and accurate data methodically using appropriate units.
Researches, references and reports Data is reported and conclusions drawn. Students carry out presentations on the practical activities with a lot of guidance. Data is reported and conclusions drawn. Students compare results and identify reasons for differences. Students carry out presentations on the practical activities with some guidance. Students must research methods available. They compare results and report on differences. Appropriate graphics & tables are used to process data and report findings. Students carry out presentations on the practical activities with minimal teacher help. Students must research alternatives in order to plan their work. Reporting covers the planning, carrying out and an analysis of their results. Appropriate graphics,tables and/or tools are used to process data and report findings. Students carry out presentations on the practical activities with no teacher help.

*Options: The more options the more student autonomy. Teachers give the students options so that the student can develop their problem solving skills. The more options the teacher gives to students, the student has greater opportunities for problem based learning and independent learning. This is measured against the practical rubrics from zero independent to full independent learning





First Hill 10
Second Hill or Loop 10
Marble Completed the Course 15
Labeled Greatest Potential Energy on drawings 5
Labeled Greatest Kinetic Energy on drawings 5
Cooperative attitude, responsible behaviors, followed all rules and expectations 10


Hills +2
Loops +5
Marble stops within 15 cm of track +5
Coaster has a creative theme related to 7th – 12th  grade school year curriculum +5




Print or Download

Annex. I.

Scientific Inquiry


Annex II.


Test Your Idea Template


Testing Your Idea Organizer    
1.       Investigative Question 

Your question should relate the manipulated variable to the responding variable. 

Investigative Question: What is the Physics of a roller coaster?
2.       Hypothesis 

Your hypothesis should be written as an “IF, THEN, BECAUSE” statement. 





3.       Variables  

·       Manipulated Variable (What you will change) 

·       Responding Variable (What you will measure) 

·       Controlled Variables (What will remain constant throughout the test) 

4.       Materials 

Create a list of all materials you need. 


5.       Procedure 

Should include… 

·       Manipulated Variable 

·       Responding Variable 

·       Controlled Variables 

·       Logical, Repeatable Steps 

·       Recording of Specific Data 

·       Repeated Trials 

6.       Data 

·       Design a table for organising data you will be collecting during your test. 

·       Use your procedure to collect and record data. 

·       Display your data using appropriate graphs and/or charts.   


7.       Conclusion  

·       State your conclusion relating the manipulated variable to the responding variable.  

·       Use data to justify your conclusion. 

·       State whether your hypothesis can be accepted or rejected based on observed data. 


8.       Analysis 

·       Discuss potential sources of error and the potential influence on your results. 


·       Provide ideas on how and why the experimental design might be improved. 


·       Describe surprising data. 


·       List ideas for revising your test idea or new related ideas to test. 


9.       Present your findings to your class.   




Annex 3.

                                          Roller Coaster Design Handout

Name:                                                          Team Members:

Challenge: You are president of an engineering firm that designs and builds roller coasters. Vialand has just commissioned you and your team of highly trained and specialized engineers to design their new roller coaster. This is to be the premier roller coaster in the world. It is to be faster and more thrilling than any other coaster that exists today.

Design Constraints

  • The track must be free-standing; you cannot hold it up or in place.
  • The car (marble) must make it from beginning to end for 10 consecutive trials.
  • The track must include at least 1 loop and 1 turn.
  • The marble must land in or knock over the cup at the end.


Materials: 2 lengths of pipe insulation, 1 marble, masking tape, cup, stopwatch

How will you use the materials provided to design a roller coaster that is fast, fun, and safe?

 Sketch a side view of your planned coaster:



Gather materials and build your coaster! If you make changes to the original design, change your sketch then modify the coaster.


Complete 10 consecutive successful trials. Time the marble from top to bottom, and record results in the data table below (to the nearest hundredth of a second).

Trial 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ave
Time (sec)                      


Calculate the average speed of your car (marble) using the formula

speed = distance / time

distance (d)  , average time (t) , s = d / t

Design Constraint Team Self Check
Is your roller coaster free standing? Yes                                 No
Is your roller coaster safe? Did it make it from beginning to end for 10 consecutive trials? Yes                                 No
Is your roller coaster fun? Does it include at least 1 loop and 1 turn? Yes                                No
Is your roller coaster fast? Average Speed ________



Take a picture of your completed roller coaster.

Sketch a side view of your final design:


Annex 4.


Trial Time (s)



Length of Rollercoaster:_____________ (m)


Mass of Marble: ________________ (g)


Average Speed: ___________________ (m/s)


Height of Rollercoaster: ________________ (m)


Gravity: _______________ (m/s2)


Potential Energy at Point 1: ____________________


Potential Energy at Point 2: _____________________


Name of Rollercoaster: ____________________________________


Annex 5.

                                   Roller Coaster Individual Written Response

 Name _____________________________  

Directions: Use the diagram below to describe how forces affect the motion of the marble as it travels along the track.

Potential Energy                      Friction                     Energy                                   Gravity

Kinetic Energy                          Force                         Inertia                                   Speed


Annex 6.

Name:                                                            Date:                                             Class:

                                                     Making Sense Assessment
Make sense of the activity by providing a short reflection about the science phenomena you explored, the science and engineering skills you used, and your idea to adapt the activity. Answer the following prompts in complete sentences:
3 Three science concepts that I learned and applied in this activity are:






2 Two science and engineering skills that I used in this activity are:
Science and Engineering Practices:

❏ Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)

❏ Developing and using models

❏ Planning and carrying out investigations

❏ Analyzing and interpreting data

❏ Using mathematics and computational thinking

❏ Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)

❏ Engaging in argument from evidence

❏ Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Engineering Design Process:

❏ Ask: Identify the Need & Constraints

❏ Research the Problem

❏ Imagine: Develop Possible Solutions

❏ Plan: Select a Promising Solution

❏ Create: Build a Prototype

❏ Test and Evaluate Prototype

❏ Improve: Redesign as Needed

Engineering Design Thinking:

❏ Formulating Problems

❏ Seeking Solutions

❏ Thriving in Uncertainty

❏ Collaborating Constantly

❏ Prototyping Ideas

❏ Iterating Options

❏ Reflecting Frequently

1 One idea I have to further explore and extend this activity is:









Annex 7.

   Roller Coaster Project Rubric

4 pts
3 pts
2 pts
1 pts
Not Attempted

0 pts

Project Completion  The project was 100% complete and worked according to the task description. The project was complete and worked, but needed minor modifications. Only required 2-3 re-clarifications. The project was complete but did not work; needed several minor modifications. Required more then 3 re-clarifications of task but didn’t impact others around him to do task severely. The project was complete but did not work; needed several major modifications. Student did not complete project in time period given, refused to start project or abandoned project once started.
Demonstrate Knowledge of Construction Student knows and is able to identify and explain necessary theories/ task for completion of the project. Relies on own memory skills to get task done. Student is able to identify and explain necessary theories/ task for completion of the project with some assistance. Uses own words to describe task. Student is unable to identify or explain concepts without major prompting. Requires adult assistance to get job done. Uses very little vocabulary to describe the task. Student is not able to both identify and explain major theories/task. Uses others views to explain the task and doesn’t complete task on own for any of steps. Student lacked interest in demonstrating knowledge of project and/or process.
Ability to Follow Directions 

(2 drops, 2 loops, 1 corkscrew, and a “special” feature that demonstrates the 3 laws of motion)

Followed directions to the letter. Used others for guides. Followed directions. Listened to others around him when needed. Moderately followed directions. Worked at a pace that was productive but didn’t listen to the adult coaching him or the customer. Did not follow directions for any of the task and at times refused to slow down to do task well. Student was non-compliant when given directions 100% of the time.
Level of Needed Assistance  Student was able to complete the task without assistance. Student was able to complete the task with little assistance. Student was able to complete the task with moderate assistance. Student was unable to complete task without major assistance. Student refused or was unable to start the project when offered assistance/ accommodations
Student Preparedness  Student had/gathered all materials and was completely ready to go to work. Student had/gathered most materials and went to work. Student had/gathered most materials, however, they needed excess time to do so. Student did not have/gather some of the needed materials to perform work. Student refused to gather materials required to complete the project.
Time Management  Routinely used time well throughout the project to get the job done on time. Used time fairly well throughout the project. Procrastinated somewhat but did get the job done on time. Was unable to adequately meet timeline due to inability. Student showed no interest in completing project on time.
Student Attitude During Project  Student turned in a project they considered a reflection of their diligent efforts. Student turned in a project they are pleased with. Student turned in a project that is semi-decent to receive a fair grade. Student turned in project simply to receive credit. Student refused to complete project
Technology Use Student used program to its fullest and was able to help others. Students used program to its fullest. Student struggled with program, and missed out several key features. Student failed to use the program to its fullest, and missed out on many of the key features. The student did not use the correct program, or refused to learn it.
Physics Concepts Students accurately identify and explain the following concepts: force, acceleration, Newton’s Laws of Motion, speed, and Conservation of Energy Students accurately identify and explain some, but not all the Physics concepts. Students accurately identify but don’t explain the Physics concepts. Students identified a few, but not all of the Physic concepts. Students do not identify or explain any of the Physics conceepts.
Oral Presentation There is a high level of preparation evident.  The presenter(s) have an in-depth understanding of their selected topic.  They are able to answer all questions relating to their project. There is a fair level of preparation evident.  The presenter(s) have an general understanding of their selected topic.  They are able to answer most questions relating to their project. There is a low-medium level of preparation.  The presenter(s) have some understanding of their selected topic.  They are able to answer few if any questions relating to their project. There is a low level of preparation.  The presenter(s) have a shallow understanding of their selected topic.  They are able to answer few if any questions relating to their project. The presentation was not ready to present.



Annex 8.

Evaluation Quiz:

1.       How do potential and kinetic energy effect a roller coaster?




2.       What is role of gravity in the movement of the roller coaster?




3.       What is the impact of momentum on the roller coaster movement?




4.       How does the law of Conservation of Energy apply to how a roller coaster moves?




5.       Explain how the three laws of motion are essential to the movement of a roller coaster:




6.       When watching the movement of a roller coaster, when do you observe Newton’s First Law of Motion?




7.       When watching the movement of a roller coaster, when do you observe Newton’s Second Law of Motion?




8.       When watching the movement of a roller coaster, when do you observe Newton’s Third Law of Motion?



9.       Explain the relationship between speed and velocity in regards to the movement of a roller coaster.



10.   How is force, a push or a pull on matter, demonstrated in the movement of a roller coaster?




11.   List and explain all observable forms of energy when watching the movement of a roller coaster.



Annex 9.

Figure 1. In this figure: the coaster starts out at the top of the first hill with maximum potential energy (PE) and almost no kinetic energy (KE) (1). As it goes down the hill, it gains KE and loses PE (2). At the bottom of the hill, it has maximum KE but almost no PE (3). As it goes back up the hill, it loses KE but gains PE again (4). It can never get to the top of the second hill because it does not have enough energy (5). Instead, it will roll back down and eventually settle at the bottom (3)

Figure 2. In this figure, the second, third, and so on hills are all shorter than the first hill (1). However, because of friction, the roller coaster will still eventually come to a stop (4)