In this Energy lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 6-12, students use an online simulation to design their own roller coaster car and track which uses just the right amount of energy to get a coaster going but make sure it stops in time. Students will observe real-time transfers of energy between kinetic, potential, and dissipated energy. They will also learn to interpret the data generated by their coasters in order iterate their coaster design, try for great success, and improve their score.
- Use an online simulation to design their own roller coaster car and track which uses just the right amount of energy to get a coaster going but make sure it stops in time.
- Engage in a fun, meaningful exercise that translates the complexity of potential and kinetic energy into intuitive understanding.
- Observe real-time transfers of energy between kinetic, potential, and dissipated energy.
- Internet access for BrainPOP
- Interactive whiteboard
- Pre-lab, lab, and post-lab worksheets (downloadable below)
- Colored pencils for each student
Preparation:Coaster Creator is a game in which students use their knowledge of potential energy and kinetic energy to design their own coaster. To prepare for this lesson, experiment with the game yourself, and make copies of the pre-lab, lab, and post-lab worksheets available under "Downloadable Resources" below. You may want to staple these together into a packet for students. You should also preview the related BrainPOP movies and topic page resources to determine how to adapt them for your students' needs.
You can learn more about the game through the Coaster Tutorial PDF available for download below. Or, create an account with JASON to watch a video tutorial of how Coaster Creator is used in real classrooms, a video demo with a game overview, or view more Coaster Creator resources. Portions of this lesson plan have been adapted from the JASON Mission Center.
- Project the Graphic Organizer for the class to see. Ask students to share what they already know about potential and kinetic energy and type their responses directly into the form.
- Play the BrainPOP movies on Potential Energy and Kinetic Energy to continue building student background knowledge around key terms and concepts.
- Revisit the graphic organizer and allow students to revise their responses and add to them.
- Pass out the lab worksheet packet and have students complete the pre-lab pages with a partner or small group and discuss the answers as a class afterward as needed. Or, if students need more support, go through the pages together.
- Project the Coaster Creator game for the class to see. Click on "Learn how to craft a super coaster" and walk through the information with students.
- Click on "Build a roller coaster right now" and invite a student volunteer to come up to the interactive whiteboard and try it out. Talk about the choices the student is making, and encourage the class to contribute ideas and use the concepts of potential, kinetic, and dissipated energy to inform game play.
- Pause the game and work through the lab worksheet. Students may want to attempt the worksheet independently and then talk about it with a partner or group. Use the other BrainPOP movies and topic resources listed at the top of the page to support students in their thinking.
- Resume game play and allow other students to assist and add to the coaster creation, discuss strategies, and try out alternate techniques. Refer students back to the lab worksheet as they plan their ideas.
- Have students complete the post-lab worksheet independently as an assessment or collaboratively as a practice/extension activity.
Extension Activity:Encourage students to explore the game on their own and apply the strategies they learned about physics to the game. Invite students to create a screencast or podcast explaining the “secret” behind making a successful roller coaster, challenging students to include the vocabulary terms height, speed, friction, and energy conversion in their explanation.