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Fourth grade students received the opportunity to play engineers this past week as they constructed their very own roller coasters. Over a three day time-span, students studied the physics concepts related to these structures, while also getting to test the limits of movement with this fun hands-on approach.

Student groups were tasked with building three different coasters. The first task was to see if they could get a marble to travel along a track with a second hill taller than the first. Many discovered this would not work as their marble did not have enough momentum to climb the second hill. The second task involved creating a loop in their coaster, which proved that a smaller, rounder loop was more successful than a much larger one. For their final task, students were challenged with incorporating three hills and a loop into their construction.

Throughout the experiments, students learned about the potential energy (stored energy) that the marble had at the beginning of the roller coaster, in addition to the kinetic motion (energy of motion) of the marble as it zoomed along the coaster track. Students found that friction was the culprit in slowing the marble down. After day two, gravity was to blame for some of the roller coasters falling apart, but students worked diligently to get them back in working order to show their parents on the final day!

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