Outreach Workshop: Roller Coasters In Your Classroom
You provide the floor space and we’ll provide the excitement and learning. What better way to learn about the physics of energy, force and motion than through hands-on science? Experience these principles first hand as you build and modify your own roller coaster designs and then get to show off your discoveries to your classmates.
This workshop is also available for grades 4-12 as a 90-minute session. The 90-minute version allows for further exploration of the concepts presented in the program.
$310 - Includes two 50-minute workshops. Additional workshops $125 each.
Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations, Science v.1.09
- Recognize that science investigations are done more than one time. (S.RS.01.12)
- Recognize that when a science investigation is done the way it was done before, similar results are expected. (S.RS.02.13)
- Describe the motion of objects in terms of direction. (P.FM.03.41)
- Demonstrate scientific concepts through various illustrations, performances, models, exhibits and activities. (S.RS.04.11)
- Distinguish between contact forces and non-contact forces. (P.FM.05.21)
- Demonstrate contact forces to change the motion of an object. (P.FM.05.22)
- Identify kinetic or potential enrgy in everyday situations. (P.EN.06.11)
- Demonstate the transformation between potential and kinetic energy in simple mechanical systems (for example: rollercoasters, pendulums). (P.EN.06.12)
Centrifugal Force: A virtual force felt by a body in motion around an axis. This apparent force acts opposite the centripetal force and is caused by the natural inertia of the body in motion.
Centripetal Force: The force responsible for pulling an object in rotation back towards the axis.
Energy: The capacity to do work.
Friction: Surface-to-surface resistance between two objects, resulting in the loss of energy to heat.
Gravity: The force of attraction towards the center of the earth.
Inertia: The tendency for an object in motion to stay in motion or an object at rest to stay at rest so long as it is not acted upon by an external force.
Kinetic Energy: The energy of an object based on its movement.
Parabola: The natural path of an object in motion through the air. A parabola is completely symmetric about the axis.
Potential Energy: The energy of an object based on its location. This is the stored energy.
Roller Coaster: A gravity-based train where all of the movement is propelled by gravity. The only input energy is to reach the starting point.
Post-visit activities provide your students with an opportunity to review workshop-presented concepts and introduce related subjects. Below you will find a classroom extension activity and a list of suggested resources for further exploration. We hope that you enjoyed our Outreach Hands-On Workshop and we look forward to visiting your students again!
Hands-on Activity: Flying High
- 2 Golf balls
- 2 Tennis balls
- 2 Basketballs
- Outdoor space
This is a great demonstration for illustrating the principle of conservation of momentum. Take your class outside and ask if they know what momentum is. Explain that momentum is equal to the mass times the velocity of an object. The law of conservation says that if two (or more) objects collide, the total momentum before the collision must be equal to the total momentum after, not taking into consideration principles like gravity and friction. For the demonstration, first stack the two basketballs on top of each other and drop them as one. Observe what happens. Now, hold the tennis ball on top of the basketball and repeat. Be careful that nothing is in line with the tennis ball. Here, you’ll notice that the tennis ball travels a good distance higher than the drop point.
Try different combinations to see if you can maximize the height. To understand what’s going on, explain that the total mass of your two objects can be thought of as one larger object falling at a specific velocity. When they hit the ground, the top one bounces off the bottom one. The small one soars because you’ve suddenly removed most of the mass. As a result, the velocity must increase in order to compensate.
Example: Imagine you have a 10 pound ball and a 1 pound ball stacked and falling at 10 meters per second hit the ground. The 10 pound ball isn’t elastic enough to bounce at all. What velocity will the 1 pound ball now have? Your total initial mass = 11 pounds. So, set up your equation like this: 11lb × 10m/s = 1lb × vm/s (where v = the unknown velocity). If you solve for v, you should get 110m/s! This is about third the velocity of sound! Of course, in the real world, the heavy ball bounces a little and a lot of energy is lost in the process.
- Mason, Paul. Roller Coaster! (Raintree Fusion: Motion and Accelleration). Raintree. 2006.
- Branley, Franklyn M. and Edward Miller. Gravity is a Mystery. Collins. 2007.
- Prasad, Kamal and Aurore Simonnet. Why Can’t I Jump Very High? A Book About Gravity. Science Square Publishing. 2004.
- Usborne Books. Illustrated Dictionary of Physics. Usborne Books. 2000.