In 6th grade students used a roller coaster track and an online simulation lab to explore changes in potential and kinetic energy. As a class we learned how to calculate distance, speed and time when given a specific situation. Then students learned how energy changes from one form to another when an object is in motion. Finally, we got to put our knowledge to work. Students used a roller coaster track, photogate timers, and a marble to track how long it took to get to certain points on the track, and how the speed of the marble changed as it moved along the track. After completing their trials, students took this information and were able to calculate the average time and speed of the marble, as well as how much potential and kinetic energy the marble had at different points along the track.
At the same time, students were also working on an online lab that simulated a person skateboarding on different types of tracks. Students were able to manipulate the situation by changing the mass of the skater, the height and shape of the track, and where the skateboarder was (Earth, moon, space, Jupiter). Students compared and discussed with their lab partners what was happening, and why potential and kinetic energy were different with each skater and on different shaped tracks.
These labs have brought a real life understanding to the science behind roller coasters, and allowed students to make a deeper connection to the types of situations where we might actually use our knowledge of energy. Go 6th grade!!