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Paper Roller Coasters: Kinetic and Potential Energy

Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
2-3 students
Active Time
60 minutes
Total Time
60 minutes
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
kinetic energy, potential energy, conservation of energy, friction
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a working roller coaster.
  • Explain how conservation of energy applies to the roller coaster, in terms of gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy, and friction.

Overview

What goes up, must come down in this thrill-seeking lesson plan! How much energy does a roller coaster car need to make it through a loop? In this lesson your students will learn about kinetic and potential energy as they build their own roller coasters from simple classroom materials.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-PS3-2. Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system.
  • MS-PS3-5. Construct, use, and present arguments to support the claim that when the kinetic energy of an object changes, energy is transferred to or from the object.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Apply scientific ideas or principles to design, construct, and/or test a design of an object, tool, process, or system.

Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.
PS3.A: Definitions of Energy. Motion energy is properly called kinetic energy; it is proportional to the mass of the moving object and grows with the square of its speed.

A system of objects may also contain stored (potential) energy, depending on their relative positions.

PS3.B: Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer. When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time.
Energy and Matter. Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Materials


paper roller coaster materials for activity

Each group will need:

  • Paper roller coaster template printed on cardstock (preferably colored).
    • You can use regular paper, but the roller coasters will not be as sturdy.
    • Only the first two pages of the template are required for the lesson. You can print the third page if you want to let your students add extra pieces to their track.
  • Extra paper or cardstock
  • Piece of corrugated cardboard to use as a base, at least 12"x12"
  • Scissors
  • Clear tape
  • Marble

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Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
2-3 students
Active Time
60 minutes
Total Time
60 minutes
Area of Science
Physics
Key Concepts
kinetic energy, potential energy, conservation of energy, friction
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a working roller coaster.
  • Explain how conservation of energy applies to the roller coaster, in terms of gravitational potential energy, kinetic energy, and friction.

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