The Brown Bag STEM Challenge- Roller Coasters

To liven up any Forces and Motions discussion, roller coasters are a sure hit!  This crafty activity will help your students explore potential/kinetic energy as well as design their own roller coasters (and what could be more engaging than that?)


  • Foam pipe insulation (any diameter; cut in half lengthwise)
  • Marbles or small hi-bounce balls
  • Masking tape (lots)
  • Journal/notebook for each team
  • Stopwatch for each team

In this activity, students work together to create a company that will design a roller coaster.  The teacher will select 3-5 different sites around the world and students will research each site to determine which is the best suited for a roller coaster theme park.  All information will be compiled in the team journal/notebook and at the end of each day (or week if it is more convenient), the team will write a letter to the company CEO (the teacher) with their recommendations and findings.

Once an acceptable site has been located, students work together to design and build their roller coasters based on the design parameters that their CEO has laid out for them. Parameters may require a certain number of loops, a certain ride time, or even track length.  Students will use the lengths of foam insulation as the track with the marbles or bouncy balls as the roller coaster cars.

As students test their designs, they will collect the data in their team journal and record observations as to improve performance, meet requirements, etc.  (Teacher note: Students will need to keep their roller coasters “displayed” for a length of time in the classroom until the completion of the project.)

So, what did we learn? National Science Standards: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry, understanding about scientific inquiry, properties of objects and materials , position and motion of objects, motions and forces, transfer of energy, abilities of technological design, understanding science and technology.  NCTM Standards:  Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement, Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements, Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them, build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving, Solve problems that arise in mathematics and other contexts, Apply and adapt a variety of appropriate strategies to solve problems, monitor and reflect on the process of mathematical problem solving, Create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas, use representations to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena. Other Skills: Communication (written), critical thinking, observation, collaboration, team building, data and recording.


Get the Roller Coasters Design Brief and Interactive Notebook Pages!


Brown Bag STEM Challenge- Roller Coasters