AskERIC Lesson Plans
Lesson Plan #:AELP-PHY0041

Roller Coasters In The Classroom

An AskERIC Lesson Plan

AUTHOR: Michael Kneese, Snake River Junior High, Blackfoot, Idaho


 Many of the principles of kinetic and potential energy can be experienced by students in the classroom. Construction of a model roller coaster enables better understanding of these basic physical laws. With certain variations, students can become more aware of acceleration and momentum.


  1. The students shall be able to accurately define potential and kinetic energy.
  2. The students will explain the relationship of height to potential energy and the resulting kinetic energy.
  3. The students will know and understand the effects of weight and speed on momentum.
  1. 12 feet of clear 1/4 inch vinyl tubing
  2. 3-4 BB's
  3. a yard stick for measuring

 Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students. Each group will have the materials listed above. Assign the groups to design a roller coaster with the first hill at a height of 4 feet and two more hills following. The group that is able to design a roller coaster with the most total inches in the height of the three hills wins the class contest.


 As the students work together they can try to put side motion to the tubing to develop more speed in the BB. As the height and angles of the roller coaster are changed the groups will understand the effects each design change has on the BB. This is a good activity for 45 to 60 minutes. If possible, find other materials of greater and less density than a BB to test the changes in a lighter or heavier vehicle on the roller coaster.

May 1994

These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center's Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.

This activity has been copied, with permission, from the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) server to ours, to allow faster access from our website. We encourage you to explore the original site.

Return to Reach Out! Home Page
To Reach Out! volunteer organization at the University of Michigan