Junior physics students are getting out of their winter hibernation and straight into high-energy building. After discussing the details of energy transformation during this unit in physics classes, students began to investigate the impacts mass, gravity, height, friction, air resistance, and other outside factors have on extreme roller coaster builds. Students worked through online interactive labs that allowed for practicing and applying their new-found knowledge of energy transformation in a virtual setting before they headed to the real-life drawing board. Throughout the entirety of the unit, students have practiced identifying and measuring energy transformation in roller coasters, detailing what energy looks like throughout the roller coaster, as well as what impact different factors have on the total energy in a coaster. Students have developed blueprints highlighting the twists and turns they will feature in their own mini-coasters. In these designs, students will also be working to calculate the different levels of energy as the “cart” moves through the roller coaster.
The long-awaited build week has finally arrived and it has the students jumping at the chance to build the ideas they have been discussing for weeks. In addition to making a functional roller coaster, students must ensure that the coaster reaches at least one meter in height, runs for at least eight seconds, and contains multiple twists and turns—students are even challenged to incorporate the tricky loops and jumps. Energy must also be able to be calculated at multiple different spots within the roller coaster. This is much more challenging than it appears–students are only using paper to build their roller coasters. Don’t let that discourage design though; student blueprints incorporate loops, twists, funnels, and drops. By the end of it all, students will have created a sturdy roller coaster that could be shown off as a potential future Six Flags attraction. Classes and groups will compete for the best roller coaster with the winning coasters being displayed at the school to encourage and promote future engineering done by students.