The Best STEM Challenge for Grades 2-5
Improve Student Learning with a STEM Challenge
The Roller Coaster STEM Challenge from my May STEM Challenges pack covers a variety of standards related to force and motion. Students discover the difference between potential (stored) energy and kinetic (working) energy. Students also learn about friction, momentum, and gravity. The design of a working roller coaster requires careful engineering and patience, which makes it quite the challenge for all levels of students.
Why Students LOVE this STEM Challenge
This is one of my kids’ all-time favorite STEM challenges for so many reasons! When students think of roller coasters, they think of FUN, and engineering their own working model is no different! This challenge is not easy for students, as it requires lots of trial, error, and improvements. Students discover that they might need to add “bumpers” on sharp turns or adjust the grades of certain drops so that they aren’t too steep. Naturally, when student groups achieve success, it is that much sweeter when they had to work extra hard to get there. They also love how they can use a significant amount of creativity in their designs as they place turns and drops in specific locations. Some groups even add tunnels, signs, and water features as final touches.
Why Teachers LOVE this STEM Challenge
Teachers love this challenge because it is a fantastic way to keep students motivated and engaged as the school year winds down. From start to finish, this challenge takes between 2 and 3 hours, and collaboration among student groups is a must. As teachers try to squeeze in all the science standards that they can at the end of the year, STEM Roller Coasters integrate so many concepts relating to force and motion.
Dig Deeper into the Best STEM Challenge EVER
To spark students’ inspiration before beginning this challenge, show them short video clips or Google images of real roller coasters. Hold a discussion about how a roller coaster might work and what features might be necessary in a roller coaster design.
If you have classroom iPads, you may choose to have students use the free Pic Collage Kids app to take snapshots of design ideas and create a photo collage.
For best results, purchase paper plates with prominent “lips” around the outer edges that are not too thick for students to cut. (Styrofoam plates do not work well because they will break when bent.) Students will cut off the outer lips of the plates and crease them along the middle to make “tracks” for the marbles. They may also cut the paper strips into different sizes so that they can turn their tracks different directions. The tracks should be taped to the top of medium-sized plastic cups. The cups can be taped together so that students can gradually reduce the height of the tracks from beginning to end. TIP: Have them tape their cup towers down to the table or a posterboard to stabilize the roller coaster. If any drops in the roller coaster are too steep, the marble may fall out.
Watch my Facebook video below to see my kids’ STEM Roller Coasters in action!
Key vocabulary cards and step-by-step photo instructions are provided to guide students through the engineering process and emphasize the major science concepts involved in roller coaster designs.
A student reflection sheet is also provided for students to record blueprints and write about successes and struggles in their design process.
This Roller Coaster STEM Challenge is part of my May (Summer) STEM Pack, along with the Straw Rocket Challenge and Waterproof Critter House.
More Amazing STEM Challenges Your Students Will Love
Click on any of the images below to read about more STEM challenges from other STEM educators.