HomeTechnology NewsFree Technology for Teachers: Roller Coaster Physics

Free Technology for Teachers: Roller Coaster Physics


Tomorrow I’m taking my oldest daughter to Storyland for a daddy-daughter hangout day before she starts Kindergarten in a few weeks. Her favorite ride is the Polar Coaster which is a roller coaster that is perfect for kids her age (and for 40-something dads who can’t really handle big roller coasters anymore). 

Thinking about the Polar Coaster got me to look in my archives for some resources for teaching and learning about the physics of roller coasters. Unfortunately, everything that I wrote about the topic in the past is no longer available. Therefore, I compiled this new list of resources for teaching and learning about the physics of roller coasters. 

  • CK-12 has a lot of interactive simulations for physics and math concepts. One of those is this roller coaster simulator. The voiceover for the simulation is very robotic. The redeeming quality of CK-12’s roller coaster simulation is that students can customize the size of the roller coaster to see how the changes they make impact the speed, the potential energy, the kinetic energy, and the heat generated by the roller coaster.  
  • PBS Learning Media offers a handful of resources for teaching and learning about the physics of roller coasters. Energy Transfer in a Roller Coaster is an interactive lesson designed for elementary and middle school students. Energy in a Roller Coaster is a simple interactive graphic that students can use to see how changes in a roller coaster design impact the speed of the roller coaster. Centripetal Force in Roller Coaster Loops is a short video that demonstrates why its not just the harness keeping your seat in a roller coaster. 
  • Teach Engineering offers a hands-on lesson plan for teaching about the physics of roller coasters. In the lesson students build and test model roller coasters to learn about the forces that affect the speed of roller coasters. 
  • How Roller Coasters Affect Your Body is a TED-Ed lesson that begins with the story of the first roller coaster in America and the injuries it caused to riders. The lesson then moves on to explain how the forces of a roller coaster can affect your body, how roller coaster designers account for those forces, and why roller coasters have gotten faster and safer over the years. 

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