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!
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 STEM Roller Coaster Table of Contents
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
With these tips and tools, you’re ready to print out the paper plate STEM roller coaster lesson plan to use with your students.
STEM Shirts for Teachers
These STEM shirts are adorable and super fun to wear while teaching STEM or science.