Taking a Trip on a Paper Roller Coaster

Digital and hands-on project to get the kids learning about force and motion by building a roller coaster.One good thing that is coming out of distance learning is that my creative juices for engaging lessons has been reignited.  Not that it was ever completely gone, but the desire to really get my learners fully engrossed in our 30 minute a day lesson opportunities, and have them coming back day in and day out (when it would be easier not to) has made me really try to think outside the box in my lesson planning.  And teaching about force and motion (as well as my social studies lessons) was a great place to start.
I have been super into "field trips" on Zoom.  I upload a background of a place I would like to visit and use the green screen to make my teaching space look like that.  For this particular "field trip" we were in the science lab at our school.  There, I showed the students the Mystery Science lesson on Force and Motion.  (it is free right now during the shut down)  Now, this particular lesson focuses on the ideas of gravity and friction being forces that move us all.  It focuses on slides, not coasters, but that is ok.  The kids got the science background knowledge we needed to go into the next part of our lesson.  

The next day, we revised these ideas, but back in our "classroom" (I used a pic of my room for this.)  The kids filled out a digital Force anchor chart that I sent to them.  I then put up a pic of a bus and said we were headed off somewhere fun.....Disneyland!  We immediately were inside, looking at Goofy's Sky School ride and went on (I told them we had a fast pass 😂)  As the ride was going, I was pointing out areas where gravity was clearly pulling the ride down and where friction was stopping it and slowing it down.  This is a great ride for that because there are SO many spots of both forces.  

I then told them that they were going to build their OWN roller coaster!  They immediately got excited.  You could see their eyes light up at the chance to build something at home.  Until I laid out the rules:

1.  It could ONLY be made of paper 
2.  It could only have tape to bind it together

The kids were a little dismayed at the idea that paper and tape were the only materials they could us, but they stepped up to the challenge.

Over the next 6 days, I took the kids on A LOT of roller coasters.  We went all over the city of Los Angeles, the state of CA, and the country.  We even headed outside of the US.  Every time we went on a coaster, I would search on youtube for a front row POV of that roller coaster.  It just made it more real for the kids.  They could pull up really close to their monitor and pretend that they were on the coaster.  As the coaster was going, I would be pointing out where friction and gravity were taking hold.

Each day we would talk about how their own coasters were going.  We would go brainstorm how they could best use the paper to create a twirlly-whirlly experience for their marble. 


Come the day of the presentations (on Zoom) every one of my 24 kids were there.  And they BLEW ME AWAY!  These kids got so into it.  Their coasters were tall, had loops, had clear areas of gravity taking over and friction stopping the marble.  It was amazing to see and I loved every minute of it!

Once the presentations were over, I set them off to reflect upon their designs.  How could they improve?  What was successful?  We brainstormed and they reflected.  It was great seeing the science sinking in and engineering ideas coming out.  


All in all, this was the perfect project for the kids to do at home, on their own, during this distance learning.  It forced us all to be more creative in how we presented things and got things done....and I loved it!   If you would like the resource I used to do all of this (with the instructions, lesson plans, digital student sheets, and rubric), you can find it here.

Have you done anything special since distance learning has started?  I would love to hear about it!

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