Science

Food Web Diagrams

  This is a lesson that, I admit, turned into something way better than I had planned. I needed a time filler activity but I also wanted students to put the concepts we had been discussing into practice. After a quick Pinterest search (obviously) on food webs and food chain activities. I stumbled ond this post from STEMmom.org. There are awesome ideas with free cards available to do sorting and organizing activities for several grade levels. I  saw terms like primary consumer, secondary consumer etc. and I immediately knew I wanted to use them! Though the post had several great ideas, I decided to take this cards and have students make their own food webs. I grabbed sheets of bulletin board paper to lay out the cards. Rather than drawing arrows, I thought using string might be fun too!

Materials.
  • 1 set of these cards per group
  • Large pieces of paper or poster board (I used sheets of bulletin board paper)
  • String/Yarn

I gave each group one set of cards and told them to make a food web with the pictures, string and labels. I didn’t really know exactly how the students would do this (and that was part of the greatness of it!) but they even better than I expected!

Immediately groups got to work cutting out the pictures, arranging them on their papers and labeling the different categories of organisms. Without any additional prompting from me, students were having in depth conversations about where to put the plants. Some questioned what they should do with the decomposers. They debated with each other how to tie in the picture of the sun when it was the source of all the energy, but not really part of the food web. As I was walking around, I hardly had to do anything but listen to their conversations and encourage them to do what they thought was best. They students were using the terms and applying our food web concepts and even self correcting among themselves! A teacher’s dream.

They ended up getting so wrapped up in the activity, this 15 minute filler turned into almost a whole class period. But it was so worth it! Because students could arrange and rearrange the different organisms, I could see they were truly understanding how food webs worked.

Once all the webs were completed, we did a “gallery walk”. Each group spent 1-2 minutes looking at each web. It was interesting to see how each web turned out differently, yet they were still correct in their thinking processes. I overheard one group say “This is the best poster. It’s messy like ours!” That particular poster and strings connecting here, there, and everywhere!

Thanks STEMmom.org for the cards and inspiration! This quick time filler activity turned into something I will definitely do again in future years!

Dissection Week!

This week was a big one for Mrs. O’s science classes. We had experiments and tons of science-y stuff going on in every corner. This made for many happy students and one tired teacher, but an overall productive and successful week.

Owl Pellets

Every year, my 6th grade class dissects owl pellets. This activity occurs after several lessons on adaptations, ecosystems and food chains. We talk specifically about owls and their adaptations and then I introduce the owl pellet. I always have to clear up some misconceptions: owl pellets are not poop! This great video shows that first hand. What a cute baby owl… until… the pellet is released! It gets them every time! 

The students spend time separating the fur from the bones, then sorting the bones that they find, and finally placing them and gluing
them on black paper. At first, students are completely grossed out by the pellet and are mortified that I won’t let them use gloves. After a few minutes of seeing what cool bones are inside though, most students are totally into the activity! They can’t wait to see if they have a mouse, a shrew or even a bird skeleton within their pellets.

Frog Dissection

In addition to teeny bones sitting all over my counters, this week was frog dissection week. This is one of the highlights of the year for my 7th grade students. We spend months studying cells and the human body, and our frog dissection is the grand finale to the unit!

The students look like little surgeons!

We spend a few classes preparing by briefly learning about frogs and their adaptations and reviewing some of the body systems. I have a coloring diagram of the frogs that students use to help them identify the parts of the frog ahead of time. We discuss the process and the tools, and then the frog day arrives!

It takes two class periods to do justice to the frog. I have the students look at the outside parts including the legs, toes, and special eyelids. Students check out the muscle layer, then open up the abdominal cavity to see the organs inside. It is so fun to see how excited they get when they are able to identify some of the organs. I see dots connecting when they observe the different system present in the frog and how similar they are to the human body!

To be honest, these activities take a lot of prep work and several classes. It isn’t easy. But these are the kinds of activities that students will remember for years to come. These are the lessons that bring science to life and teach more than I could in two weeks of taking notes. The students will discover first hand how the world works and will be inspired by God’s awesome creation. The looks of excitement (and horror) on their faces when they start opening up their pellet or cutting through the frog’s skin make those preps worth it.

You can order both the owl pellets and the frogs online. I order mine through Carolina Biological and always seem to get quality products for a decent price. And no, they did not pay me to say that, although that would be nice!

It was a busy week, but it was one full of learning and excitement for science.

Foil and Pipe Cleaners – Get Creative!

What do you do when you find out last minute that your guest teacher can’t come teach your STEM class? Look to Pinterest, obviously. I found out last minute I had to teach a class and only had about 20 minutes to come up with and prepare an activity for that period. Luckily, all you Pinterest people and your great ideas came to the rescue. I found a great last minute activity here and immediately knew I had to do this. I planned, prepped and prepared for the class in less than 10 minutes! Win!

This activity is pretty open ended, which I loved for my students. I had the materials available in my classroom too, so all I had to do was pull them out, and I was ready to go!

Simple Materials:

  • 1 Large sheet of foil per group
  • Several pipe cleaners per group (I gave them up to 7, but you can choose the amount!)
  • Scissors, glue sticks (I allowed students to use these, but you don’t have to!)

Task:

Make the best creation you can with the materials given to you

Putting it all together:

Students immediately began asking if there were any other requirements or tasks. I told them, they needed to think about what being the “best” meant. Does that mean having a really useful purpose? Or maybe just the coolest looking piece? Or maybe something that would be super fun to play with. They didn’t have to use all the materials, but couldn’t use any additional materials in their creation, besides scissors and glue.

At first, students didn’t know what to think, but once I paired them up and they started discussing with their partners, I heard ideas flying.

I gave students a few minutes to plan, then handed out materials. Groups had 15 minutes to create something with their pipe cleaners and foil. Walking around, listening to their ideas, I was astonished at their creativity! Most ideas were very different from each other as well, which I loved.

Once the 15 minutes of work time was up, student groups had one minute to share why they thought their design was the best… give a sort of promo for their product. This really helped some groups demo their designs, or make a funny comment that helped the rest of the class see more of the group’s creativity and thought that went into their product.

After all the presentations, I handed students a slip of paper and told them to write down their #1 and #2 choice on which was “best” and they could NOT vote for their own.

Results:

In our class, a dinosaur hat for a child received the most votes, which a recreation of a scene from Star Wars received second place (a type of glider was close behind in third!).

I was extremely pleased with the way the activity turned out and would definitely do this again with a different class. I did it with middle school kids, but I could see any grade level enjoying it.

Let the creative juices flow!

Teddy Graham Natural Selection – A “Beary” Fun Science Activity

    In one week, I did at least 5 different activities involving food or candy. No wonder I’m not any closer to my pre-baby weight! However, out of all the delicious demos this week, the Teddy Graham Natural Selection takes the cake… or the cracker?

I originally found the idea for this activity when I was student teaching and trying to come up with a creative way to teach adaptations and natural selection to a bunch of 7th grade students.I found a lesson here that I absolutely LOVED and adapted it for my younger crew. My cooperating teacher at the time thought the lesson went wonderfully and told me she planned to use it in future years. I have used it every year since.

The lesson addresses concepts of adaptations, natural selection or “survival of the fittest.” In sixth grade, we spend time discussing adaptations and how they help organisms survive, so that is when the Teddy Grahams make an appearance.

Teddy Graham Natural Selection

Have you ever noticed that there are two shapes of Teddy Grahams? One type keeps its hands up high and the other down low. Two shapes represent our two
adaptations!

Materials needed:
  • Teddy Grahams – You need about 20-25 for each student. For my class of 24 students, this took about 2 boxes
  • Cups – One for Each Student
  • Lab Activity Sheet (Email or comment if interested in receiving this!)
Directions:
  1. Describe to students the situation, which goes something like this:
  2. You are bear eating monsters, but they only like certain bears. There are two kinds of bears that live in the forest — Happy bears and Sad bears. Happy bears love to frolic in the woods, eat sweet honey and dance to the music of the trees. Because of this, happy bears taste sweet and delicious. They also are easy to catch! Sad bears tend to keep to themselves, feed on roots and bugs, and sneak around quietly. They are much harder to track down, and leave a bitter taste in your mouth that you do not enjoy! Hence, your diet consists of happy bears only. Every year, new bears are born in the forest.

  3. Students predict what will happen to each bear population over time.
  4. Next, students start by blindly taking out 5 bears from your cup
  5. They record how many happy and how many sad bears are there out of the 5 on their activity sheet
  6. Students then may eat the happy bears!
  7. For every sad bear left in their pile, they may pull out a new bear. For example, if three sad bears were left, they blindly pull out three new bears, making the total 6 bears.
  8. Again, students record the happy and sad, eat the happy, and for every sad bear left, a new bear is taken from the cup. Note that these new bears can be happy or sad bears – whatever happens to be pulled out.
  9. Depending on the amount of happy bears in each “generation”, students may go through this process between 3 and 6 times before their bears run out!

After there are no more bears in the cup, students calculate percentages for each generation. To do this, they take the number of happy bears and divide by the total number of bears for THAT round. They repeat this with the sad bears. Finally, students make a double line graph, recording the percentages for each bear. All of this is included on the activity sheet.

Once everyone has eaten the happy bears, we discuss which bears had the adaptation that helped them survive. Students understand that even though both were bears, the sad bears’ behavior helped them to survive. In fact, you could take it a step further and discuss what might happen to them as bear eating monsters if the happy bears died out. Would the bear eating monsters that can handle bitter tastes (and could eat the sad bears) be better equipped to survive?

By the end of the lesson, I always get one or two students asking me if the sad bears really taste bad… too funny! Your class will never look at Teddy Grahams the same way again! Have a “beary” fun time with this one!

Blind Tasting – How Senses Affect Taste

Recently, I needed a quick activity to do with my elective class that would take only one period. I’ve been on a food trend recently, so I thought why not use some of the materials I had leftover and test the students’ abilities to taste foods… without using some of their senses!

At the start of the class, we discussed how what we taste and how we think about flavors is often affected first by sight and smell. Does the look of something affect the taste? Also, how closely connected are smell and taste? My students were pretty confident that they knew their foods and could identify anything I gave them. I accepted that challenge! 🙂

Activity One

I had two activities ready for the day. For the first, I scrounged around my house and school, coming up with random samples of things students could eat.

This list included:
  • Cereal
  • Butterscotch chips
  • Marshmallows
  • Gummi Bears
  • Goldfish
  • Cracker
  • Apple sauces
  • Pieces of cheese stick

And more… (afterwards I thought I could have also included a kind of baby food, since I have a few types of those around the house!)

I had students work with a partner. One student put on the blindfold, and his or her partner gave them a food sample in a cup, and students could eat the food right out of the cup. This way, touching the texture would not be a factor. Before eating, I made everyone plug their nose, then eat. The blindfolded students had their partners write down what they thought the food was. Once we had done several foods, the partners switched who was wearing the blindfold, and I brought out new foods for them to try.

Most students did pretty well and were fairly accurate with their guesses. The cheese stick tricked up some, and the butterscotch chips were a hard flavor to guess.

Activity Two

For the second part of the activity, we focused on identifying flavors. I showed students a bag of Skittles.  I told them I would be giving them each a Skittle while they were blindfolded. However, I wouldn’t tell them the flavor. Without seeing it AND with their noses plugged, they found out quickly that figuring which flavor of Skittle they were eating was not easy! Out of the 5 flavors they tried, most students could only identify one or two correctly. Several even asked if I gave them the same flavor twice!

Students had a blast. Their reactions to the tastings were hilarious. We were all happy after eating our snacks, and came away with the realization that we like being able to see and smell our food!

Jello Skin Model

 Ready for another food model? I love using anything edible to demonstrate science concepts whenever I can, and this week seemed to be full of food activities! Recently, in my 7th grade class, we have been studying the integumentary system. This includes the layers of the skin as well as the “stuff” inside.

We had discussed the different parts of the integumentary system in a previous lesson. Students used a diagram to label each layer and write down the function and purpose.

I did throw in one little demo that shows how oil affects our skin. The oil glands secrete oil that helps provide a barrier for our skin. First, I had students use an eyedropper to place a drop of water on their skin. We noted how the water stuck together. Then I took a cotton ball and swabbed their other hand with rubbing alcohol before putting on another drop of water. This time, the water droplet ran right off — it did not stay stuck together. The rubbing alcohol had taken some of the oil of the skin and in doing so, the skin was not as water resistant!

My students did like that demo, but obviously the food part was a bigger hit! I originally found this activity here at My Mundane & Miraculous Life and couldn’t resist trying it. 

Here are the materials needed to make the jello skin model:

  • 4 packs of Jello (I think orange works best so you can see the inside)
  • Mini Marshmallows
  • Fruit Roll Up or Fruit by the Foot or another type of fruit leather
  • Twizzler Pull n’ Peel

Directions:

I forgot to take a “before” picture of the whole pan. This is a little section left of just the jello and marshmallows!
  1. Make the jello but use the “Jiggler” recipe. (I think it uses less water and makes a firmer Jello. If you aren’t using Jell-O brand, you can find a jiggler recipe here)
  2. Let the jello set for a few minutes (until it isn’t super hot) and pour the marshmallows on top. Then let it set for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Cut the jello in pieces and place the pieces on a plate upside down so the marshmallow layer is on the bottom. Each student gets a piece.
  4. Have the Twizzler Pull ‘N’ Peel and  cut into sections and the Fruit Roll Up unwrapped and ready to give to each student

As a class, we discussed what two layers of the integumentary system the model represented so far (marshmallows= fatty tissue or hypodermis and the jello = dermis)

Students then received a piece of Fruit by the Foot (but other materials would also work) to put over their jello. This represented the epidermis.

Students received pieces of Twizzler Pull N’ Peel. Some pieces were used as hairs. Students had to poke holes in their epidermis and stick the pieces in. Other pieces could be rolled up and stuck inside the dermis layer to represent sweat glands. I used plain red Pull ‘N Peel, but it would be neat to try multi-colored (I’m pretty sure that exists…) and each color could represent something else in the skin: hair, sweat glands, nerve receptors, etc.

I’ve heard of also using things like chocolate chips to represent moles on the skin surface. Creative!

The best part is, after students have completed their model, they can eat it! Delicious!

Trashketball – A Great Review Game for Any Subject!

A trash can, paper, and review questions are the only things you need to make “Trashketball” work!

It’s March Madness season. Anyone else get into this time of year? I love filling out my bracket in the hopes of predicting the most correct, and then quickly become disappointed when my teams lose. But that is the greatness of the tournament!

Both teachers and students get very into the games here at our Indiana school. Our PE teacher randomly assigns each class to a few teams in the tournament. If that time wins the whole thing, the class gets to do a special activity of their choosing. The teachers are in a pool where the winner gets a gift card (or maybe even their recess duties covered for a week!) I let the my middle school students fill out one and the top 5 or so overall get to have ice cream sundaes after lunch one day. It definitely makes watching the tournament a fun experience!

Teachers have also been incorporating basketball into their curriculum as well. A 5th grade teacher did an inquiry lab on how the angle of the backboard affects your shot percentage. Another teacher in the lower grades has a bulletin board set up in the hallway about Indiana basketball history. What a fun way to connect students to content!

Because spring break was fast approaching, I needed some review games. Often I will use Kahoot (which kids love!) but I was inspired by some crazy basketball games over the weekend to do something different. Trashketball was a game from my own middle school memories and I was super excited to bring it back to my classroom!

All you need to do this review game is the following:
  • A set of questions that can be answered in a few words (or numbers)
  • A trashcan
  • A bunch of slips of paper

I used this for my math class, so I copied down a bunch of problems that I could project on the screen. Students had calculators and scratch paper to help them.

To set up the game:
  1. Prepare questions to give to students. The best way to do this is to have questions ready to display somewhere that all students can see at once.
  2. Cut up paper into small squares. Have a lot of paper ready (you can always use the extras for next time!)
  3. Place a trash can (I use a smaller can) in the middle of the room, and students place their desks or chairs in a circle around the can. It is up to you how far students are from the can. Farther away makes the game a little more challenging! Make sure students sit equal distance from the can and no one has a huge advantage.
Here is how to play the game:
  1. Students see a problem on the screen and have time to figure out the answer (depending on the question, I gave them between 30 seconds and 1 minute) and write their answer on a slip of paper with their name on it.
  2. Once the time was up, I would tell the students, “Shoot!”During this time, students would crumple up their slips of paper into mini “basketballs” and shoot their answers into the can.
    1. Students may NOT stand up or move around during this time. I told them their “bums” needed to stay in the seats!
  3. I gave 30 seconds for students to “shoot” their answers. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Students can shoot as many slips of paper with their answers on it as they can in that 30 seconds
    2. Students can shoot up to a certain amount (like 3) in a round.
  4. When shooting time is over, the teacher grabs the can and looks through all the papers that actually made it in. Any correct answer receives one point. Incorrect answers get zero points.
  5. Students keep track of their own points and whoever has the most at the end wins!

There are other versions of this game out on Pinterest. Here is a link to another version that sounds great too!  Mrs. E Teaches Math has great ideas, so be sure to check out the rest of the blog.

Students loved the game and already have requested to play it again! It was fun, engaging, and helped students review how to do their math problems! It does create a little craziness in the classroom, but hey, it’s March Madness!

Digestive System Mini Lessons – Part 2

Here is the Digestive System Mini Lessons – Part 2 post! There are three more simulations for parts of the digestive system. If you missed the first post on this, be sure to check it out by clicking here.

Sweet Teeth

This activity demonstrates how your teeth help in the digestive process. Students receive a sugar cube as well as a small cup of granulated sugar. They fill two cups with equal amounts of warm water, placing the sugar cube in one cup and the granulated sugar in the other. Students stir each cup and watch how the sugar dissolves. The granulated sugar dissolves much more quickly than the cube, just like your teeth break up food into smaller pieces so it is easier to break down the food later.

A student stirs a cup with granulated sugar and compares it to another that has sugar cubes.
Materials needed:

2 clear cups

Water

Sugar cubes

Granulated sugar

Stirring sticks

 

Surface Area Matters – How the Villi Help the Small Intestines


Villi help absorb as many nutrients as possible. To demonstrate this, students take four cups of water and fill each with the same amount. For the first cup, students take one sheet of paper towel, fold it several times, and dip into one of the cups to absorb the water. Then students take a graduated cylinder and measure whatever water is left in the cup that the towel didn’t absorb. Students repeat this using two paper towels folded together, three paper towels, and four paper towels. The four paper towels folded together should absorb the most water, leaving the least amount behind in the cup.  Often, I follow up on this by asking, “What would happen if there weren’t as many villi to absorb nutrients?” Students agree that some nutrients may be missed! This always reminds me of the Chocolate Factory clip from I Love Lucy – without enough villi, the intestines would be like Ethel and Lucy and miss a lot of good stuff!

Materials needed:

Four cups

Water

Paper towel (9 sheets)

Graduated cylinder

 

Let the Juices Flow!

Using orange juice, students see first hand how the acids in our stomachs help break down foods. Bread is torn into small pieces and placed into ziploc bags. Then they pour some orange juice into the bag. Make sure the bags are sealed (otherwise it gets messy!) and squish the bread around. The bread looks gross, but starts to dissolve before your eyes! Students carefully pour the liquid out, leaving behind the solid “waste”, which is then disposed of in the garbage can! This activity simulates several parts of the digestive system, but especially highlights the large intestines’ job.

The “stomach acids” at work.
The “solid waste” leftover. Gross!
Materials needed:

Ziploc bags

Bread

Orange juice (or another type of fruit juice)

Waste container or sink to empty juice into

 

I do have short worksheets for all of these activities. Students fill them out to help instruct and guide them throughout the lesson. Please comment or email if you would like to have them!

While students participate in their activities, I like to walk around and ask questions, clarify instructions or just listen to how students explain things to each other.  It is awesome to see students making the connections and teaching each other!

Please use these ideas in your own classroom, either in groups like I did, or even as full class demonstrations! Have fun digesting!

Puff Mobiles – A quick STEM activity.

It’s been a blustery few weeks here in Indiana. We have gone from a balmy February to a mild start to March, but as we approach spring break, it has been cold! All this up and down in temperatures has caused some extremely windy days. Like trees blowing over, branches falling, be careful when you go outside windy days! In fact, it is snowing today, but the forecast shows temps in the mid 50s in a few days. Welcome to Indiana.

On one of those days, after the wind was howling through the night, I decided to introduce Puff Mobiles to my elective class. This activity is easy to set up, and the students love it. Before introducing the activity, I do a brief overview of wind and wind power with my students. We discuss how wind generates electricity and the wind turbine (we have lots of these in our area!) We also recall how it was used for ships and boats as the first modes of transportation.

Then we get to the fun part–the Puff Mobile.

Goal:

Students must design a vehicle that uses wind power from their own mouths to puff or blow their creation to the finish!The wind background info isn’t completely necessary for this one (but I like to include it), and it doesn’t really have a prompt or standard that it aligns perfectly with. But it is fun, works on engineering concepts and is easy to implement!

There are relatively few supplies needed, which makes it easy to prepare on short notice!

Each student (or student group) receives the following materials:
  • 3 Straws
  • 2 Paper clips
  • 4 Peppermint Lifesavers
  • One sheet of paper
  • Tape (I limited the tape to about 50 cm so students don’t go crazy!)

Not all supplies must be used, but may no other supplies may be included.

Students get 3-4 minutes to plan out and sketch a design before actual construction. I do encourage students to stick as close to their sketch as possible. They are allowed to cut the straws and paper. Paper clips can be bent and twisted however students think necessary. Students can even color their paper if you have time! Construction takes anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes (depending on how much time you have!).

Once all was constructed, we set up a Puff Mobile tournament! We pushed the tables and chairs to the side of the room so we had a lot of open space down the middle. I drew brackets on the board (March Madness style) and pulled names out of a cup so students were randomly matched up. A start line and finish line are necessary, and the race can be as long or as short as you want!

Some rules we establish for the Puff Mobile Races:
  1. During racing, the vehicles must start and remain (as much as possible) on the ground. AKA – not paper airplanes.
  2. There is absolutely NO intentional moving, blowing, hitting, kicking, etc of another mobile in order to advance your own.
  3. As audience members, students may cheer and encourage, but may not touch or get in the way of anyone in the race.
  4. The teacher is the final judge. If mobiles somehow get stuck in the corner or turned, I can tell them to pick it up, turn it around or to “unstick” it.

I think it is hilarious watching the kids belly crawl across the floor, trying to puff their mobiles all the way across the finish line!

Kids have a blast, AND my floors are much cleaner after the races!

Roller Coasters – Looking at Potential and Kinetic Energy

Who doesn’t like a roller coaster? Let me rephrase that… what middle schooler doesn’t like roller coasters? And if they don’t like riding them, I’m pretty sure they would still like the idea of building one!

This is one of my favorite activities of the year. It incorporates concepts of kinetic and potential energy, which is a big standard to cover in sixth grade, while engaging and challenging the students.

SLED Program

I definitely cannot take credit for coming up with this lesson. It was developed through the SLED program. (Science Learning Through Engineering Design) This program, funded by a grant through the NSTF, was a partnership between the SLED program directors and teachers of grades 3-6. Because the program was developed at Purdue University, many local school districts and teachers were able to be a part of developing these lessons. The focus was to increase science learning through engineering design. I worked with the SLED program and its amazing directors for several years and through it, added a bunch of awesome engineering-based projects that align perfectly to Indiana science standards. (Here   is more info if you want it!)

Before the Activity

Before starting the roller coasters, my students have learned/reviewed kinetic and potential energy. We do a lab where students “play” with wind up toys, mini circuits, bouncy balls and more, and trace how the energy is transferred in each situation.

I also LOVE showing them this video. It gets stuck in your head, so watch out! But then again, it will get stuck in students’ heads, which is fantastic!

I follow the SLED lesson plan, which you can find here

Designing the Roller Coasters

To introduce the activity to the students, we begin with the challenge: Indiana Beach wants to build a new roller coaster with a lot of loops, but wants to be as economical as possible. Can they help? Instantly, students are engaged. Indiana Beach? Roller Coasters? Hooked. However, we discuss several concepts before designing.

  • What’s the challenge? (To build a roller coaster with loops)
  • What is the goal? (The most loop diameter for a limited coast)
  • Who are we working for? (Indiana Beach)
  • What are somethings that might limit us? (Space, materials, TIME!)
  • What concepts in science have we been learning about that will help us here? (Kinetic and Potential energy!!!)
Materials used to build the coasters:
The tubing comes in packages like this. I find the 3/4″ works best.
  • Insulated pipe tubing. I use 3 ft sections cut in half. These make the “track” for our coaster. You can find them at any hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) or online. You will have to cut them in half.
  • Duct tape
  • String
  • Tacks (longer tacks work better)
  • Large pieces of cardboard to secure the coasters on(think refrigerator, tv, large sporting equipment, etc. I had a connection to someone that worked in a bike shop and got several large boxes from him!

The tubing and cardboard can be reused, so you will not need to get all new supplies every year!

Once we review the materials and the goal, students get a few minutes to plan and sketch their designs individually. Next, I put them in groups of 3 (if necessary I make a group of two. Four students seems to be too many in this activity…) and together, they come up with ONE plan that they want to use for their roller coaster.

Each team gets a large cardboard piece which is propped up along the wall around my classroom. This is their roller coaster canvas. They may receive up to 5 pieces of “track” and unlimited amount of duct tape, string and tacks (although all come at a price!). Students typically need about 30 to 35 minutes to design and build their coasters (or really, that is all the time I can give them!). For the coaster, we use a marble. I do allow students to test their coasters as they go so they can make slight adjustments as needed.

While students are building:

I usually walk around during construction, asking questions such as:

  • Why did you need to make your second loop smaller than your first?
  • Why are you starting the marble so high?
  • I see that this loop isn’t working. What do you think the problem is?

Encourage students to think about kinetic and potential energy when responding!

 

Wrapping Up

Once time is up, student groups calculate their coaster’s final cost, measure the total loop diameter on the coaster, and calculate a team score. Team scores are the cost divided by the total loop diameter. Lower scores mean the coasters are more cost efficient or have a high loop diameter, which were the goals!

Finally, groups present and test their coasters in front of the class. We take a “roller coaster tour” and walk around the room. Students share their designs, their cost and their team score. Then the moment of truth… will the marble actually make it through the entire track!? I do give students several attempts, but usually there are a few groups that are unsuccessful, and that is ok! At each coaster, students put sticky notes on where they believe the most potential energy and the most kinetic energy are located–super helpful in reminding students  about these concepts!

Overall, this lesson takes me about three class periods. However, it solidifies students’ understanding on kinetic and potential energy. And it is fun! They will be talking about their coasters for weeks to come!