This is one of my favorite homeschool engineering challenges. Quite simply, we turn kids loose with a bunch of pipe insulation and painters tape letting them build the roller coaster of their dreams. Some kids come up with rather straight-forward roller coasters, and they need coaxing to put in a loop or jumps, while other kids go to town with the insulation and tape. And the best part is that the materials can be used again and again with your homeschool science program.
When doing this lab, I like to break up the time. First, I let the kids have 20 minutes or so and just play with the tape and the insulation. Then, we’ll step back and look at their design, test it, and talk about how to improve it.
This is also a terrific icebreaker activity, and it can also be used as a team-building exercise for Destination Imagination. Homeschool engineering challenges like this are an important part of learning to think creatively, and to problem solve.
Pipe insulation split in half, lengthwise, use the 3/4″ pipe insulation so that a regular marble will slide through it
Painters tape so it releases cleanly from walls
lots of wall space
Scaling the Lab
For older kids, we’d give them certain challenges. For example:
- make the roller coaster last the longest
- incorporate jumps over gaps, loops, and turns
- the longest roller coaster, the tallest roller coaster
- and so on.
Roller coaster labs are great for introducing or reinforcing topics like gravity and friction, and for more advanced kids, potential and kinetic energy, and even centripetal force. Expand on your homeschool science curriculum with this fun engineering challenge today.