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I was wondering if anyone has done much in the area of working with roller coasters in physics. I am particularly interested in this more complicated roller coasters by K-Nex for my third grade gifted students. WalMart and Lakeshore have carried more simple roller coasters to work on this process.
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I have seen some amazing K-Nex roller coasters, but when I teach my gifted workshop we make them more simply out of pipe-foam insulation, postal mailing tubes, and whatever else is in the recycling bin (TP tubes, popsickle sticks, plastic cups, etc.).
They are so creative in what they do - no two have ever been alike! I make all kinds of conditions they have to fulfill to successfully complete their engineering design challenge (and I give them a budget and "charge" them for extra materials - especially extra duct tape over the 2m limit !). Conditions might include have 2 hills, 3 turns that equal at least 180 degrees (or some other angle), bring the marble to a stop gently (so as to not hurt the "passengers"), etc.
There was an article about how to construct these in Science & Children http://learningcenter.nsta.org/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/4/sc08_045_07_18 and a podcast about a 5E inquiry lesson on roller coasters here http://learningcenter.nsta.org/product_detail.aspx?id=10.2505/14/PCPPS09_Jan22.5
Whether you do the foam coasters or the K-Nex, check out the information above to see if there is any good ideas you can incorporate! I have been to several NSTA and local presentations about using roller coasters and each time I come away with more good ideas!
What have other people done to make roller coasters either more science-y or more engineering design oriented?
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Building and studying the motions of roller coasters are such great ways to apply the NGSS Engineering standards in all grade levels. Your hands-on approach sounds like you offer a solid foundation for elementary students to apply themselves to project based learning.
This interactive site sponsored by Annenberg has been available to teachers for a long time and is useful at many different cognitive levels. You might consider or another interactive site similar to it as an adjunct to your students learning tools. Check it out.
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Phet in Colorado also has some simulations and information on roller coaster physics that you might find useful; it also may be adapted to multiple learning levels.
Including energy transformations and changes between potential and kinetic energy is also a solid ancillary to building and designing coasters.
This energy skate park simulation is interesting:
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