Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Homeschool Physics: We Made Paper Roller Coasters

You know that nothing is fun unless you study for it, right?

It's perfectly natural, then, that I would tack on an entire, though short, physics of roller coasters unit study to our summer, as a prelude to the family trip that we take to Holiday World (made possible because two tickets to a theme park is one of the high-level prizes in our council's Girl Scout cookie sale!) every summer.

I mean, come on. I'm the mean mom who signed her kids up for a ride physics class AT DISNEY WORLD (it was an awesome class, and if you ever get a chance to go to Disney through the YES program, you should do it!). You know I'm not above making them study for a day trip to Holiday World.

I'll tell you about the physics of roller coasters unit as a whole another time, but by far the coolest part of it was making paper roller coasters.

We used these paper roller coaster templates, and they were absolutely perfect. I had to refer to the instructions the first time I tried to assemble each component, but after that the process was straightforward and easy to remember.

The kids measured and cut the cardboard base for each paper roller coaster using old pizza boxes (we eat a LOT of take-out pizza...), and did all the design and assembly themselves--

--but I often sat with them and did grunt construction work, as there's a LOT of cutting and taping to be done to construct every single piece. Normally, kids would create these in groups, but my kids each wanted to create their own--I mean, wouldn't YOU want your very own roller coaster?--so they definitely needed some unskilled labor to help ensure this wasn't a project that took all year.

Since we did this over summer weeks that were often broken up by day trips and long weekend trips and camps, I was pretty chill about my expectations for how much time they put into creating their roller coasters. Each kid for sure put in several hours, and Syd spent a lot of time while Will was at Space Camp working on hers--

--so you'll notice that it's more elaborate than Will's:

I love looking at all those little details!

The kids did a LOT of problem-solving and troubleshooting as they worked, and it's exactly the type of work that I like to see my perfectionist one and my academically gifted one do, and it's why hands-on learning is so important. One thing that I could have required, but didn't, is that their paper roller coaster be consistent--it's what's required in a real roller coaster, after all. Can't have a real roller coaster that only works one out of every five times, and that only after you've fiddled a little more with it every time!

They'd already put so much time and work into their roller coasters by the time they each had a design that felt complete, though, that I didn't feel like adding more to the project. They'd also had so much fun that I didn't really feel like bringing them down by making them continue working after they felt done, and honestly, our summer has been so whirlwind that I was pretty happy to be able to film them doing one good run and then call it an ending.

Here's Will's paper roller coaster:

You can see that there's less to it than Syd's, but it's also a faster and more exhilarating ride!

I need to remember to include more of these short units into our homeschooling. We did so many of these when the kids were younger, of the type like, "Hey, you kids are super into fruit--let's spend a week learning everything about fruit!", but as they get older, we've ended up in much more involved, longer studies. They're great for really mastering a subject, but there are so many things to know and explore! And never enough time in the day!

Thankfully, though, we set aside the time for this. And when we go to Holiday World and spend the day riding terrifying roller coaster after terrifying roller coaster, it will be with the comfy knowledge that we now know quite a lot about the physics of roller coasters.

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