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Students Complete Roller Coaster Energy Analysis Project

Mr. Chelmu’s physics students recently demonstrated their understanding of energy transformation and conservation of energy in an exciting roller coaster energy analysis project. 


Students were grouped into teams and tasked with building a marble roller coaster out of dowel rods, foam tubing, duct tape and custom-made roller coaster foundations. Students were responsible for taking measurements of the height and speed of their marble at various locations in their coaster. With this data, students calculated kinetic, potential, mechanical and heat energy at different positions in the roller coaster. Students then graphed their energy data to visualize how energy transformed from the top of the track, to the middle of the track, and finally to the bottom of the track. Next, students produced written responses in which they described and explained how energy transforms during the coaster while total energy remains constant. As a culminating activity, each team of students produced a video that articulated their energy analyses. 


example chart showing energy measurements
A student’s energy analysis in graphical format is shown above.


In addition to conducting an energy analysis, student teams earned “thrill points” for every loop, corkscrew, hill and turn in a light-hearted class competition. Mr. Chelmu tracked points for each group in real-time, inspiring the students to test new additions and configurations in order to increase their scores before time expired and class ended. Keeping the marble on the track proved to be an engineering design challenge, as students adjusted the height and angle of loops and turns to prevent the marble from flying off the track or losing speed in the middle of a loop.  

Below, see two student videos that summarize the results of their roller coaster energy analysis: