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Paper Plate STEM: Roller Coaster Design Challenge for Elementary

There are so many engineering activities for kids that have engineering design challenges for younger kids, but what about older elementary students? What engineering design activities can third through fifth graders do? Well, with this paper plate STEM roller coaster design challenge, elementary students will learn all about forces and motion, physics, and types of energy.

Making paper plate roller coasters is always one of the most popular engineering design projects for elementary students!

Roll up your sleeves for some STEM excitement with paper plate roller coasters! Elementary students, especially the older ones, will relish the opportunity to design their unique roller coaster. Along the way, they'll grasp key concepts in forces, motion, physics, and energy

Find out how to teach this exciting physic STEM lesson that is a favorite with elementary-aged kids.

Paper Plate STEM Challenge: Physics Design Activity for Elementary

Ready to unveil the secrets behind roller coasters? In this physics lesson students will:

  • Discover how roller coasters use stored energy to whizz around without engines.
  • Design a roller coaster model for marbles that works using the power of potential and kinetic energy.
  • Test their understanding of energy and the simple physics behind how energy works on earth.

So, let’s get started!

paper plate coaster for a marble

How does a Paper Plate Marble Roller Coaster Work?

Roller coasters, even our paper plate designs, run on the science of physics!

  • Gravity’s Pull: Coasters use energy from being lifted to a height (think of it as a big playground slide).
  • Zooming Down: When they go down, they use that energy to move – we call it kinetic energy.
  • Ups and Downs: As the marble goes around curves and up hills, it loses some energy due to things like rough tracks.

Physics STEM Resources

Here are some physics resources and demonstrations that help kids understand the basics of physics in a hands-on way!

steam turbine model physics
Subatomic board game
renewable energy physics
motor generator physics
motion and friction physics
inductive tesla coil physics
gumball machine physics
electricity generator physics

Roller Coaster Science

Roller coasters work with the physics of energy, forces, and motion. Here is how your paper plate roller coaster works:

Before you drop your marble onto the coaster, your marble has potential energy, similar to how winding up a toy car prepares it to move.

When you drop the marble onto the coaster, the paper plate roller coaster design will allow the marble to speed up. This is kinetic energy.

Time to dive into STEM magic with paper plate roller coasters! Older elementary students will be all in, crafting their personalized coaster designs. This journey will enlighten them about forces, the dance of motion, and the different shades of energy.

What stops the marble from rolling forever is friction. The bumps on the track, the marble’s surface, and even the air work against the marble, trying to slow it down.

After a while, the marble loses all of its kinetic energy because of friction and the design of your coaster and comes to a stop.

If you designed your paper plate roller coaster correctly, it will fall neatly into your muffin cup!

Physics STEM Kits for the Classroom

You may find using these physics classroom kit sets handy for helping students understand difficult physics concepts!

abc physics
simple machines physics
electric physics bundle
mechanics systems physics
physics workshop
magnets and sorting bundle physics
heat transfer physics
moving creations physics

Paper Plate Roller Coaster Materials

Ready to start your paper plate STEM roller coaster challenge?

This is what you will need to build a fun and functional roller coaster to learn about forces of motion!

Before shopping the affiliate links below, grab the roller coaster STEM worksheets to go along with this physics STEM lesson for elementary!

roller coaster challenge worksheet
paper plate roller coaster supplies

You can add more resources for students to use during this challenge if you prefer or want to allow room for more creative freedom.

Paper Plate STEM Roller Coaster Design Tips

Designing a paper plate roller coaster for a marble is not hard, but it’s important to consider the following.

paper plate roller coaster stem challenge

Your coaster needs a good base. Make sure it’s wide and sturdy.

Keep the tracks as smooth as possible. The smoother they are, the faster the marble will go!

Start with a tall drop for speed, but then have gentler slopes to keep the marble moving. Add fun things like loops or tunnels.

But remember, loops need enough speed, or the marble might get stuck.

Try out your roller coaster with the marble while in the building phase of your project. This helps find problems early.

Physics Books for Students

Students beyond primary grades will find these physics books interesting!

Learn more about energy, forces and motion, and learn how rectilinear motion works and the math behind it.

projectile science physics behind kicking a field goal and launching a rocket
physics for every kid book
quantum physics for smart kids
super simple physics
junk drawer physics book
simple machines physics book
electricity physics book

Roller Coaster Physics Activity Design Lesson Plan

Don’t forget to check out the complete paper plate STEM lesson plan below!

And grab the roller coaster STEM worksheets specific to this physic lesson plan for elementary!

stem roller coaster challenge worksheets

With these tips and tools, you’re ready to print out the paper plate STEM roller coaster lesson plan to use with your students.

paper plate marble coaster

Paper Plate STEM Roller Coaster Challenge

Active Time: 45 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: medium
Estimated Cost: $10

Dive into the thrilling world of roller coaster physics and turn learning into a joyride for your students with our paper plate STEM challenge building a roller coaster for a marble out of paper plates.

Teach students about potential and kinetic energy using just a marble, paper plates, and plastic cups. This fun-filled marble roller coaster lesson plan simplifies physics, making it a easy for elementary students to understand


  • Colored paper plates
  • Masking tape
  • Pencil
  • Plastic cups
  • 1 marble for each student group
  • Muffin cups or other small cups


  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Science notebook or worksheet
  • Calculator


Ready to set the stage for a roller coaster STEM extravaganza? Here's a simple lesson plan guide you can use to create your lesson plan.

Tailor this general outline to best fit your classroom needs for the paper plate STEM challenge.

Chatting About Physics (10 minutes)

Ever wondered why things move? Let's chat about potential and kinetic energy. It's like stretching a rubber band and then watching it zoom or imagining a ball racing down a slide!

That roller coaster excitement? It's all about playing with these energies.

Dream and Doodle (10 minutes)

Sketch the roller coaster you've always dreamed of. The big starting drop? That's your energy boost for the rest of the journey. howt o make roller coaster supports from plastic cups

Loops, turns, and dives are all in—just watch out for those too-sharp turns.

Construction Time (20 minutes)

Gather your materials, it's building time!

  • Use the plastic cups as supports. Tape several cups together to make taller supports. paper plate roller coaster supports
  • Cut the paper plates into a spiral shape and allow that to help create your design. directions to build paper plate roller coaster stem activity
  • If you add a loop, make sure you have enough of a drop before the loop so the marble can go completely around the loop.building paper plate roller coaster
  • Tape your supports to a large piece of cardboard so your coaster won't shift around.

Testing Phase (10 minutes)

Release your marble from the top.

Can it finish the ride? If it stops midway, where's the hiccup?paper plate marble coaster

Brainstorm solutions. Perhaps a smoother curve or a bigger starting drop might help. Tweak, test, and cheer as your marble completes its journey!

Discussion (10 minutes):

Let's chat! Roller coasters need thoughtful design and a smooth path to beat friction and air.paper plate roller coaster stem challenge

Did you dive deep into the design and build process?

Can you share about roller coaster science with a friend?

How did your adjustments help your marble glide better?

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STEM Shirts for Teachers

These STEM shirts are adorable and super fun to wear while teaching STEM or science.

i love math
math teacher hero
math is funny
women in science
science pins
science teacher
figure it out
protractor turtle

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