Monday, April 11, 2011

Roller Coaster Success

I have always been annoyed that my Applied Physics class has never actually been, you know, applied physics. We created the class to cover standards on the state assessment for kids who would never be able to pass regular physics. While a typical day in that class is spent doing labs, they have always been pretty canned.

Last week I got bored with it. I was sorting through an old pile of papers and came across a roller coaster project that someone had presented years ago in a teaching methods class. We have been talking about speed and momentum and acceleration and energy. This just seemed perfect. So off to the hardware store I went.

I gave my kids 15 feet of conduit insulation, some masking tape, a marble and some pretty vague instructions about how to build a roller coaster. The only requirements at this point were that the roller coaster had to have two hills and a loop.

They ran with it.

They talked about energy.
They talked about momentum.
And acceleration.
And velocity.

And whether or not their roller coaster was one they would actually want to ride.

This coaster was changed because of that. They ended up putting another length on the end and tried to get the marble to come all the way back to the start. It was close, but couldn't quite make the return loop.
They had incredible discussions about everything we had learned in class. I was truly amazed. There is no way these discussions would never have come out of working problems on a worksheet.

Even when I upped the assignment to figure speed and acceleration, they jumped right in. They had to pick six points on their track and determine the speed and acceleration at each point. Kids who refused to do these problems as practice showed all their work WITH LABELS in order to prove their roller coaster was the fastest.

For a project that took about eleven minutes for me to plan, it turned out really well, although there are several things I am editing for next year.*

-First off, they don't get to use my metersticks as supports. Just a little glitch if you require them to, you know, measure anything. I soooo didn't see that one coming.

-I would also like them to compare the speed and acceleration to real life roller coasters.

-Maybe make a commercial advertising their roller coaster?

-I'm thinking I could have a couple staff members listen to the presentations and pick a "best of show."

-Glass marbles shatter when dropped off the bleachers. Into millions of little pieces.

After I got them all started and I started Googling, I came across several sites on project based learning. New obsession here. While this isn't exactly where we are at the moment, we are definitely going to be doing more of this in class. These guys will be my guinea pigs this year and I think they are totally okay with that.

*Is it considered editing if I didn't have it written up??? I'm not even sure I can claim the planning part.


Phil said...

Always a great project! I would suggest you check out my colleague's website about how he uses Roller coasters in his classroom.

He partners up with his humanities teaching partner to research and market an international company.

Tracie Schroeder said...

Phil - Thanks so much for the link! There are some amazing resources on that page. I love the EOL pages. I was thinking next year I would introduce blogs to my kids or have them keep some type of digital record. The organization part has always been my weak point, so I might spend a few hours on this page taking notes. Thanks again!

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