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Take a Roller Coaster Ride


roller coaster

  • Physics


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

    Brief Description

    Students take on the role of engineers who need to design a roller coaster. They will learn about the history of roller coasters, the different types, and the many things that affect roller coaster success. Finally they use a variety of Internet resources to guide them as they design their own roller coaster and test it for success.


    Students will
  • learn about the different types of roller coasters and different materials used to build them.
  • conduct simple experiments to help in designing a safe but exciting roller coaster.
  • learn the basic laws of physics that affect roller coaster success.
  • learn about the history of roller coasters.
  • design their own roller coaster and test the safety of the design.


    roller coaster, safety, experiment, physics

    Materials Needed

  • toy cars
  • water
  • paper cups
  • mapping software (Kidspiration) or paper and pencil

    Internet Resources

  • Amusement Park Physics
  • Amusement Park Physics: Design a Roller Coaster
  • Amusement Park Physics: Safety Inspection
  • Funderstanding Roller Coaster
  • How Roller Coasters Work
  • Roller Coaster History
  • Roller Coaster Database
  • Roller Coasters: Inventing the Scream Machine
  • Weightless Water Trick

    The Lesson

    Set up this lesson by telling students

    You have just been employed to design a new roller coaster ride for a theme park they are building in your state. In order to create a thrilling but safe ride, you need to learn more about roller coasters.

    Begin your research at Amusement Park Physics. After reading the introduction, select the "roller coaster" link at the bottom of the page to learn how a coaster works and the difference between wooden and steel coasters.

    Take time to visit How Roller Coasters Work -- Types of Roller Coasters and read through that section on coaster types.

    Then do a little experimenting: Try the Weightless Water Trick.

    Next, take a couple of small toy cars and experiment with them on your own. See what happens if you make them go down hills that slope gradually rather than suddenly. What happens on hills that have another hill at the bottom? How does this relate to your roller coaster design?

    Visit Roller Coasters: Inventing the Scream Machine and Roller Coaster History to learn about the background of this invention.

    Create a timeline of your own showing the most important events in the history of roller coasters. You may use mapping software such as "Kidspiration" or paper and pencil for this activity.

    A good engineer always designs a prototype first. Create yours at Amusement Park Physics: Design a Roller Coaster.

    When you finish, go back and take the Safety Inspection to discover the success or failure of each step in your design.

    Now, you are ready to create your roller coaster using the simulator at Funderstanding Roller Coaster. Please note that this site may take a long time to load and that you may need to scroll down a bit to see the content.


    Students will be assessed
  • by teacher observation during experiments and research activities.
  • on the information presented in their timeline.
  • on the success of their coaster design.

    Submitted By

    VaReane Heese, Springfield Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska


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    Last updated 06/02/2011