A Web-based Inquiry Exploration
How do you Design an Awesome Roller Coaster?
Roller coasters are an adventure.  People go on them because they are fun and exciting.  They also go on them because they are safe. In order to understand roller coasters better we must look at the way that they move and the physics that is occurring.  Roller coasters are not just thrill rides that make us smile and wait in line for hours.  Since this is true lets go see what roller coasters are really about.  You may be surprised how much you can really learn about these powerful and great machines!

Objective: As part of roller coaster fun, your job is to design your own working roller coaster using the Funderstanding Roller Coaster web site!  You will use the data table below to display the roller coaster design settings.  If you have time, design a second working roller coaster.  You can list these settings on the table as well.

Before you begin designing, there are five activities you will do in order to gain information about roller coasters and how they move.  In these activities, you will explore the properties of physics by looking at roller coasters.  Using the World Wide Web and other resources, you will discover the properties of physics that make roller coasters move the way they do.  These activities are Energy, Inertia, Friction, Centripetal Force and Gravity.  There are links to these activities below:

Centripetal Force

After you finish your exploration of how a roller coaster moves, you will design your own roller coaster.  Using the directions and the graph below, you will conduct experiments and two roller coasters.  These will be later be shared with your classrooms.

To Design your own Roller Coaster:

1. Go to Funderstanding Roller Coasters.
2. Test out the simulator.  Try each one of the controls.  Record any observations you may have on the back of your graph handout paper.
3. Now lets get started on designing your coaster.  Keep testing out the simulation until you find a roller coaster that goes through completely, which means the car goes completely around the loop.
4. Press the green button to play the simulation.  Look at the time it took for the simulation to occur.  Write this time next to the space for time in your graph.
5. Play the simulation again.  This time you will need to look and see what the maximum speed of your roller coaster is.  You may play the simulation more than once to get this answer.  Record the maximum or greatest speed in the graph.
6. Repeat the step above to get the minimum or lowest speed of the roller coaster.
7. Finally, record each of the settings you set for Hill 1, Hill 2, Loop, Speed, Gravity, Friction and Mass.  There will be a line in the graph with next to each of these words.  They will have a minus and plus sign at each end, just like in the simulation.  You will need to circle where the button is in your roller coaster.  Try to be as accurate as possible.   (-)                                           (+)
8. When you are finished with your first roller coaster build a second roller coaster that is different from your first.  Record your data like you did with your first roller coaster.
9. When this task is completed, get a blank sheet of paper.  Explain each part of your data.  You may need to refer back to your activity pages to explain your information.
10. After everyone is finished in your class, compare your results.  Try to build a different personās roller coaster using only their graph and observations.
11. At the end of the design experiment, you should have gathered enough information to make a poster of what you learned about roller coasters, how they move and your design.  These will be published and shared with the class at the end of your web exploration.
Design a Roller Coaster Roller Coaster #1 Roller Coaster #2
(In Seconds)

(In Seconds)
Maximum Speed / Minimum Speed 
(In Miles per Hour)

(In Miles per Hour)
Hill #1  (-)                                       (+)  (-)                                       (+)
Hill #2   (-)                                       (+)  (-)                                       (+)
Loop   (-)                                       (+)  (-)                                       (+)
Speed   (-)                                       (+)  (-)                                       (+)
Mass   (-)                                       (+)  (-)                                       (+)
Gravity  (-)                                       (+)  (-)                                       (+)
Friction   (-)                                       (+) (-)                                       (+)

Design Handout
  (All activities are designed for a 5th-6th grade classroom)
Materials you will need to complete experiments:
        A pen or pencil
        Hand outs (located on  each activity page)
        Energy- Styrofoam tubing, Marble, Tape, Ruler
        Inertia- Index or playing card, Plastic cup, Penny
        Friction-Different types of objects, A wood/metal sheet
        Centripetal Force- Paper cup, 3 pieces of string/yarn, hole puncher, penny, styrofoam tubing, marble, tape, ruler

Great Web sites! These web sites will be helpful in your exploration: