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Students build roller coasters from paper

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ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) — T.K. Stone Middle School seventh-grade science teachers David Grossman and Katie Davis are educating their students on kinetic and potential energy by letting them design and build their own homemade thrill ride.

Grossman and Davis assigned students to design and build a roller coaster with at least one loop, six turns and a height no more than one meter using cardstock paper and tape. This is a process that took five days in class to create.

Esha Kahn said her group tried to make its roller coaster's design more realistic.

"We tried to find a way to put all of the criteria in there and make it perfect," Esha said. "We tried to design a roller coaster that was efficient and powerful ...We designed ours using basic concepts and we tried to make it as simple as possible because that's how a roller coaster should be. It should be classic."

Elijah Olsen and Jet Saebuai created the design for their coaster, the Grand Tilted Roller, by accident.

"We called it that because it was tilted and because we kind of messed up on some of the parts but thought it was cool," Elijah said.

The assignment was made for a unit on kinetic energy and potential energy with some added engineering techniques including design, planning, testing and revising the design added in.

"We asked them to make a design, but this is so different from anything they've ever done," Grossman said. "It was hard for them to visualize what it was going to look like before they started putting pieces together."

The cardstock paper had printed templates on it so the students knew where to fold or cut, if needed.

The students were in groups of about four. On a recent Wednesday, they tested the coasters using a marble to travel through the miniature ride. The students had to track the time for their coasters and compare it to other groups'. The groups also could customize their roller coasters with decorations.

One group customized its roller coaster to look like a circus ride. Olivia Yurcisin, Leighanna Ashby and Aaliyah King took printed photos of clowns and circus acts to make their coaster stand out from the rest.

"When you have a clown, some people think they are scary so when you are coming down the hill, you can scream," Olivia said.

Sophia Warthen and Kyla Mattingly named their roller coaster Dangerous Sparkles.

"It goes fast and has a lot of turns," Sophia said.

Davis said she was really impressed with how well her students have done with the project.

"The kids have been really engaged with this," Davis said. "There's been a lot of having to be problem solvers when they're building this. They have a plan and it's not going the way it's supposed to, so they have to problem solve to fix it. Sometimes they keep their ideas, sometimes they scrap it, but there's a lot of the engineering ties with it where they have to actually put this in action."

Davis said while everyone uses similar pieces, no one roller coaster is the same.

"I think that's kind of cool," she said.

Aside from the benefit of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards with this assignment and introducing the students to physics and engineering concepts, Grossman said none of his students complained about it.

"It's something fun to do other than sitting and writing about roller coasters," Kyla said.

The teachers agreed they want to use this project again next year.

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