Home School Life Journal From Preschool to High School

Home School Life Journal ........... Ceramics by Katie Bergenholtz
"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Physics

In this series, your student will be commissioned to be a roller coaster designer and as part of his training, he will look at some roller coasters that do not work and his task will be to figure out why they do not work and design a solution to the coaster's problem, using what he has learned about physics. Each student will need a blank notebook to write in.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Design Training: The Snake

Covers Potential and Kinetic Energy, Law of Conservation of Energy and reviews Newton's First Law of Motion.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Design: The Racing Roller Coaster

Reviews Speed, Velocity and Acceleration, looks at how Mass Affects Velocity and Therefore Momentum.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Design: The Wooden Wonder

Covers mechanical advantage and reviews drag.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Design: Marble Coasters

Students take what they have learned and apply it to making their own model roller coasters. They must identify at what points in the roller coaster the following are demonstrated:
  1. Inertia
  2. Centripetal Force
  3. Friction
  4. Angular Momentum
  5. Linear Momentum
  6. Highest Kinetic Energy
  7. Highest Potential Energy
  8. Negative Acceleration (Deceleration)
Other hands-on activities are suggested.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coasters: Marble Coasters

Now, its time to use all you have learned to make a model roller coaster.

You will be graded on:

  1. Accurate labeling of terms
  2. Successful verbal explanations
  3. Smoothness and reliability of operation
  4. Problem solving
  5. Stability of the structure
  6. Creativity
  7. Teamwork


You can use either foam pool noodles and tape or cardboard paper towel, gift wrap and toilet paper tubes and tape. You will also need scissors and marbles, of course. You must have at least one curve and one loop and an energy source, such as gravity, that will send the marble all the way through the coaster. The marble must also land softly at the end and not fly out.
After you have built the coaster, test your coaster by sending the marble through it. Problem solve how to fix any problems your coaster has and make any necessary adjustments.


Label, either with written labels or verbally, with the following terms:

  1. Inertia
  2. Centripetal Force
  3. Friction
  4. Angular Momentum
  5. Linear Momentum
  6. Highest Kinetic Energy
  7. Highest Potential Energy
  8. Negative Acceleration (Deceleration)

Other possible projects:

  • Try building a roller coaster out of easy  to bend wire.
  • Write a detailed description of a roller coaster you imagined, creating your own virtual ride, by making the description as realistic as possible, obeying all the laws of physics you have learned.
  • Research and write a report about how either Galileo or Newton influenced the study of physics.
  • Research  and write a report about how the moon's gravity brings about tidal changes using the physics concepts and terms you have learned.
  • Research and report about how Newton's Laws of Motion affects bicyclist safety.
  • Research and write a report about pendulums and Newton's Laws of Motion.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Design: The Wooden Wonder

Which items reduce friction and which increase it?

For this demonstration, you will need a spring scale. Begin by putting a rubber-band around the length of a wooden block that is at least 3x5x1. Hook the spring scale onto the rubber-band at one end of the block.
Now, pull the wood block across a large Styrofoam tray.
Place marbles in a large jar lid and then put the lid in the Styrofoam tray. Pull the block across the marbles.
Tape a piece of coarse sandpaper, that is as wide as the block and as long as the Styrofoam tray, to the tray. Pull the block across the sandpaper.
Remove the sandpaper and spread oil in the tray. Pull the block through the oik, being careful not to get oil on the scale.

Which setup(s) required the least force to move the wood block? Which required the most?
Anything that reduced the force needed is described as a mechanical advantage.

Review Activity: Drag

Drag is a type of friction. Have your student either come up with examples of Higher Friction, Higher Drag, Lower Friction, Lower Drag or have him sort those examples you have typed up for him.

Invader, the wooden roller coaster at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg.

Fixing the Wooden Wonder

This time the roller coaster you need to fix is a wooden roller coaster called the Wooden Wonder. Many roller coaster fans love the wooden coasters even though they don't turn you upside-down and can't be as big as metal coasters. This is because every day the ride on a wooden roller coaster is different depending on the humidity or dryness and the heat or cold.
Last night some teens were caught in the amusement park after closing time. I am afraid that they did something to the Wooden Wonder, and you are shown the ride operate with empty cars. After climbing slowly to the top of the first hill, it plummets to the bottom of the hill, clocking in a speed of 85 mph on the computer sensor read-out. The approved maximum speed for this coaster is 68 mph. When the train returns, you notice that the wheels appear yo have melted a bit. You and the maintenance crew walk along the track and after climbing to the top of the first hill, you all spot something glistening on the downhill tracks. What do you think was found on the track, and why? How can you explain what is happening to the cars, using Newton's First Law of Motion? What can the teens do as their restitution to get the train working as it should?

Math Connections

Work equals force times distance. Have your student use this formula to make up and solve math problems.

Middle School Physical Science: Roller Coaster Design: The Racing Roller Coaster

Warm Up: Speed, Velocity and Acceleration

To review these concepts, students either need to come  up with examples of speed, velocity and acceleration or sort some examples that you give them on slips of paper. Review any concepts as needed.

Math Problems: Speed

Speed is the distance travels divided by the time it took to travel. Have your students solve some speed problems, according to the level they are comfortable with.

Activity: How Does Mass Affect Velocity (and Therefore Momentum)?

You will need two balls of the same size up of different masses such as a solid rubber ball and a hollow plastic one, or two cars of the same size and different masses.
A board that is about 8 inches wide and four feet long
stopwatch or clock with second hand
smooth floor

Predict which ball will get to the end of the ramp faster, the one with more mass or the one with less.
Release one ball at the top of the track and have someone time how many seconds it takes for the ball to get to the end. Be sure to start timing upon release and stop timing when the ball hits a certain point at the end.
Repeat with the second ball, making sure that this ball is released at the exact same place as the first ball was released.

What force started each ball  moving? What forces stopped each ball's inertia or tendency to keep moving once it started moving?
What is the action force when each ball hits the pillow? What is the reaction force? How does this relate to Newton's Laws of Physics?
Why did the fastest ball travel at a higher velocity (get to the end faster)?
How might the mass of a roller coaster car affect the ride?

Fixing The Racing Roller Coaster

This time you are shown another metal skeleton which sprawls across an even larger area than the Snake.  This coaster has two tracks which are designed to race each other. One side has cars made from aluminum. They were expected to be the faster cars, but in fact they barely make it to the finish line. The cars on the other side are of the exact same design, but they are made of a mixture of heavier metals.
The first hill is 198 feet high and the second his is 140 feet high. Each of the rest of the hills is lower than the hill before it. The coaster starts at the first hill and goes to last him and then returns to the beginning.  
Can you determine the reason that the cars on the one side move slower even though they are lighter? How might you redesign the slower cars to make them travel at a higher velocity?

Other related demonstrations:

Summer Bucket List for Families

June 21:Tie Dye Party
June 22: Decorate Walking Sticks
June 23: Letterboxing

June 24: Glow Stick Man

June 30: Summer Watermelon Treat Packets

July 1: Seafood Boil at Home

July 2: Make a Zoom "Ball"

July 3: Fizzy Explosion Bags

July 4: Make Red, White and Blue Firecracker Jello Cups

July 5: Operation Rescue Super Heroes

July 6: Make a Mini Mint Garden

July 7: Make Your Own Gem Mine

July 8: Make Ladybug Cookies

July 9: Take a Firefly Walk

July 10: Make a Windsock

July 11: Make Homemade Ice Cream in a Homemade Ice Cream Maker

July 12: Make a Watermelon Cake

July 13: Make a Solar S'mores Maker

July 14: Make a Balloon Rocket

July 15: Make an Edible Sand Dessert

July 16: Make a Watermelon Picnic Blanket or Tablecloth

July 17: Make a Summer Journal

July 18: Play Pooh Sticks

July 19: Make a Strawberry Fizz

July 20: Do Suminagashi: The Art of Japanese Paper Marbling

July 21: Visit a Local Cultural Store
July 22: Make Bejeweled Goblets

July 23: Make a Watermelon Shark for Shark week.

July 24: Make ice cube boats.

July 25: Have Christmas in July.

July 26: Make an Ivory soap cloud.

July 27: Make Baby Bel umbrellas.

July 28: Make collage art.

July 29: Make cucumber boats.

July 30: Make sand dollar cookies.

July 31: Make a tea bag rocket.

August 1: Have a Bird Race

August 2: Make Beads

August 3: Make Dandelion Chains

August 4: Make Clothespin Dolls

August 5: Make a Dream Catcher

August 6: Make a Giant Bubble Wand

August 7: Make Coffee Can Stilts

August 8: Make Cosmic Sponge Balls

August 9: Make Twig and Maple Seed Dragonflies

August 10: Paint with Bubbles

August 11: Make Juice Box Boats

August 12: Make Firefly Lanterns

August 13: Make Potato Prints on Fabric

August 14: Make Campfire Sundaes

August 15: Climb

August 16: Make Magic Color Changing Drinks

August 17: Go to a Pick-Your-Own Place

August 18: Make a Watermelon Slushie

August 19: Make Cloud Parfaits

August 20: Make a Light-bulb Light up Without a Socket

August 21: Make Your Own Slime

exotic fruit tasting
August 22: Have an Exotic Fruit Tasting

August 23: Make a Sandcastle Treat

August 24: Make No-Sew T-Shirt Bags

August 25: Paint En Plein Air

August 26: Make a Mini Cream Pie Bar

August 27: Have a Home Movie Night

August 28: Make Your Own Sushi

August 29: Make Your Own Gak

August 30: Make Plaintain Shooters

August 31: Make Bird Puppets

September 1: Watercolor & Crayon Resist Leaves

September 2: Butterflies for Lunch
Simple Beach Keepsake Craft
September 3: Make a Beach Memories Keeper

September 4: Have a Labor Day Cookout