Monday, June 1, 2015

Roaring Roller Coasters - June 1 , 2015

I decided to do a roller coaster project because, for the last two years, this was the team building project for the Tech Challenge teams at the Tech Museum of San Jose. So, I thought it must offer a lot of different learning opportunities, and it did.

The point of this project is NOT to find a right answer (because there is no right answer) but to encourage the team-building skills and problem-solving skills. I didn't realize that when I started, but it soon became clear.

But I do start the project, I ask the class about if any of the students have a favorite roller coaster, then we talk about some of their favorite roller coasters. Then I talk about potential energy and kinetic energy - the definitions, examples, formulas, drawings, etc. 

Potential Energy = mgh (m-mass, g-gravity, h-height)

Kinetic Energy =1/2mv2 (m-mass, v-velocity/speed)

A higher object has a greater potential energy (given the same mass), and a heavier object has a greater potential energy (given the same height), too. As the roller coaster drops from the high point, all of its potential energy is converted to kinetic energy, making the roller coaster to go fast.

Supplies List:

  • A length of 1/2" pipe insulation 
  • Three types of 1/2" balls or roller coasters (wooden - empty roller coaster, glass - half-filled roller coaster & metal bearings - full roller coaster)
  • Some kind of materials to make support structures (I recycled strips of corrugated plastic boards we used for the Tech Challenge competition), but straws, chopsticks, foam/plastic cuts, etc. will do just fine
  • Scotch tape
  • Masking tape
  • Cup (foam or plastic), but not too large

The goal of the project is to create a very exciting roller coaster for all three types of roller coaster types.

Project Requirement:

  1. All three types of roller coasters (must roll, jump, fall, etc. into a cup in the same location.
  2. Roller coaster design must have a loop, spiral or something to make the ride exciting.
  3. The cup cannot touch the roller coaster track (1/2" pipe insulation).
  4. Any team members cannot hold the track in place. The track must be standing on its own.
  5. There is no winning criteria except that it must offer an exciting ride.

Building Instructions:

  1. Test different designs by holding the track and rolling different types of balls down the track.
  2. Once the team decides on the design, build the support structure to hold the track in place.
  3. But first, tape the top of the roller coaster against something solid - wall, desk, chair, backpack, anything, then start putting in loops, spirals, etc. Trying to secure the complete roller coaster all at the same time is the most difficult way to go.
  4. Brain-storm, design, test, and repeat.

Again, the possibilities are endless. Have fun!