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Q4 STEAM: Roller Coaster Design & Engineering Challenge

2. Visual Learning


Model of a roller coaster created by and shown by a mechanical engineer named Chris Gray. He is holding a page-size board with a  handmade landscape with trees, grass, hills and the roller coaster.


 Watch this one minute video by Chris Gray, a Mechanical engineer and roller coaster designer from


You have been hired by the Best Thrill Rides amusement park to design their roller coasters. They claim to be the best in the world at thrills and safety. You must use your knowledge of mass, gravity, potential and kinetic energy to design roller coasters that will not stall or crash.

Key Vocabulary

Potential energy: Potential energy is stored energy.

Kinetic energy: Kinetic energy is t
he energy of motion. definitions of kinetic and potential energy on TeacherTube

Energy loss:
When energy is converted from one form to another, or moved from one place to another, there can be some energy loss (e.g. when the coaster wheels run on the track some of the energy is converted to heat on the metal rails of the track)

Friction: Friction is t
he resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another.

Mass: Mass is the
 amount of matter an object has. 

Velocity: Velocity is t
he speed of something in a given direction.

Gravity: Gravity is the natural force that causes things to fall toward the earth.

I Can Statements

  • know how energy transfer (potential and kinetic) will impact my design for a roller coaster that has enough kinetic energy to complete a full run
  • understand how energy loss dissipates enough energy (through friction) to stop safely at the end of the designated track
  • apply the 5-step engineering design process to create a working model
  • set and evaluate some personal learning goals 

Your first challenge is to learn something about the science involved in how roller coasters work.


1. Do some research and work with a partner or small group of three, and learn about how roller coasters work. Each partner can use one of the following links and then share what they learned with the others.

Step 2: 5-Step Engineering Process

2. Learn about the 5-step Engineering Process  you will use for this Roller Coater Engineering Challenge.

This is a circle diagram with the words Ask - Imagine - Plan - Create - Improve around it. In the center is a picture of a roller coaster going in a loop

  1. ASK: What is the problem? How have others approached it? What are your constraints (such as age of the intended riders)?
  2. IMAGINE: What are some solutions? Brainstorm ideas (such as number of loops, hills). Choose the best one.
  3. PLAN: Draw a diagram. Make lists of materials you will need.
  4. CREATE: Follow your plan and create something. Test it out!
  5. IMPROVE: What works? What doesn't? What could work better? Modify your design to make it better. Test it out!

Step 3: Preparing to Create a Super Coaster

1. Check with your teacher and download/copy and create your own Best Thrill Rides Note Taking Form (GDoc OR Word) to use for the next part.

2. Use the National Geographic Jason simulator tutorial "Learn How to Craft a Super Coaster" found at the Jason Digital Lab. NOTE: this activity uses FLASH and may not work on an iPad. (Check with your teacher)

This is a screencapture of the National Geographic Jason Project Digital Lab Coaster Creator, showing a young woman and a Mission board with two linked buttons, the top one is for a tutorial on Learn How to Craft a Super Coaster, the bottom one to Build a Roller Coaster Right Now!

3. There are 10 questions in your Note Taking Form to answer as you go through the "Learn How to Craft a Super Coaster"  Jason Simulator Activity.

4. When done, write two or three personal learning goals you want to learn about regarding the physics of roller coasters in your Note Taking Form.

Step 4: Ready to Design and Test!

Open, read, and follow the 10 step Coaster Planning Chart Directions

***You will use your own copy of the Best Thrill Rides Note Taking Form to document the information on your coaster trials.

Overview of this Challenge Activity

  1. Your task is to design two virtual roller coasters, and run at least three or four trials for each.

  2. Your challenge is to apply what you have learned about potential and kinetic energy and try to complete a successful coaster run with one of your coasters, making changes to the track as you go through the test runs.

  3. Identify a specific audience (e.g. kiddie coaster, fearless teenager, older crowd, or one you designate) for each coaster. Open this pdf document to see descriptions for these types of audience.

  4. When done with the first coaster, create a different coaster design and document three or four trials for it. 

  5. You might find it helpful to draw out diagrams for your coasters using a draw program or on paper.

  6. If you receive a certificate of success from the Jason Lab, do a screenshot of it and paste it into the space provided on the form or ask your teacher about printing it.

Step 5: Coaster Simulation Challenge Conclusion Report

When you have finished your two coaster sets of trials, create a one to two page word processing (e.g. GDoc or Word) document to compare and contrast the coasters you designed.  *Refer to your results noted in your Best Thrill Rides Note Taking Form.

  1. How did the different elements that you had to consider impact the success of your coaster?

(Number of cars, number of hills, height, loops, reaching the end station)

  1. Describe the effects of potential and kinetic energy in both successful and unsuccessful attempts in the design of the tracks.

  2. Describe how the use of the simulation software helped you learn about potential and kinetic energy.

*Be sure to use spell and grammar check on your document, include an image of your best coaster.

Check with your teacher on how to turn in your Best Thrill Rides Note Taking Form and your Conclusion Report document.

Step 6: Build One - Engineering Challenge

STEPS for the Build One - Engineering Challenge:

TEAM: Form small design teams of three to four classmates.

GOAL: Your team will apply knowledge of the design process and how potential and kinetic energy work together to build a successful coaster model.

  1. At your first team meeting, read over the grading rubric for the roller coaster engineering challenge

  2. Analyze team member strengths by sharing personal expertise and interest areas such as: Internet research, good scavenger for materials needed, good design visionary, good assembler, good sketcher, good team leader to keep things on task, good note taker

  3. Identify a team note taker to make a copy of this real roller coaster team planning document and share it online with team members, or print it out

  4. Look for the green highlighted  ⭆ arrows. Begin to fill out part two adding ideas and team member names as they volunteer

  5. Make a drawing in step three and meet with your teacher for approval to begin construction and gathering materials. Modify the team planning chart if needed.

  6. Once approved, begin work to construct your coaster.

  7. Begin the test runs and document it in your real roller coaster team planning document. Complete all of the trial runs making changes and improvements as needed.

  8. Review the grading rubric for the roller coaster engineering challenge and make any changes needed before you turn your team planning document and roller coaster work into your teacher.

  9. Write a CONCLUSION REPORT - Create a three minute project report using any technology process the team selects and include some video and/or still images. Have a team discussion with each partner contributing to an analysis answering the following questions.

  • Did I/we meet my/our learning goal(s) at the top of the real roller coaster team planning document?

  • What are some good decisions and steps we took to solve specific problems with the design and construction


Completing this Quest

Congratulations on becoming an innovative designer by going through the five-step engineering process! Check with your teacher on how you will submit your work. 

I have completed the Quests as assigned by my teacher. 
Go to the Graduation Page for this Thing  

ISTE Standards

ISTE Standards•S

3. Knowledge Constructor
c. curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods

4. Innovative Designer
a. know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems
b. select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks
c. develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process
d. exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems

5. Computational Thinker
b. Collect data or identify relevant data sets

6. Creative Communicator
b. Create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations

Common Core Standards

Common Core Science Standards
MS-PS 3 a, b Energy