Roller Coaster Activity
Roller coaster physics is the perfect potential energy example. Tell students that they will work in groups to design a roller coaster with two drops and a loop, but no mechanical gears to pull the car along. Explain that students should decide the height and location of each of the drops, as well as whether the distance between them should be small or large. Circulate among the groups redirecting the discussion as needed and answering questions. Encourage students to draw a diagram of their completed roller coaster.
When the groups have come to their conclusions, have them share their roller coasters with the class, making sure that they discuss their results in terms of potential energy and kinetic energy. Students should have come to the following conclusions:
· The roller coaster should start at the top of the first drop so that it will begin with potential energy.
· The first drop should be considerably higher than the other drop and the loop, because some of that potential energy will be lost.
· The second drop should be higher than the loop if it comes first, and the loop should be higher than the second drop if it comes first.
· The distance between each drop should be small so that very little energy is lost to friction and air pressure.
Encourage students to research roller coaster physics and potential energy in their free time, and send them to an online site to build a virtual roller coaster, if time allows. Use this potential energy example to spark their interest in physics in general and energy in particular.