Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Physics Project Rolls Into The Library

Back in December, our Physics teacher, Mrs. Linda Self, asked me if her students could display their paper roller coaster projects in the library. I was very excited by this request. After visiting her classroom and seeing their work, I couldn't wait to share them with the learning community in the library! It has been a challenge for us to collaborate with mathematics and science classes. This was a perfect opportunity to allow the library to be a public viewing space for student work. I'm thrilled to be joined by Mrs. Self in this post as she shares her thoughts on the project.

Mrs. Self's Reflection 

Roller Coaster Physics:
Roller coasters are often used as a real world application for the Physics of Motion.  Change of location, changing speeds and changing heights are the very basics for motion studies.  Then, there are the turns!  My class built paper roller coasters during the unit on Circular Motion.  The classes learn about the forces that create circular motion, the imaginary force called centrifugal, and how much speed is necessary for an object to complete a loop.  The rubric for the students is to build a free-standing roller coaster that correctly uses all of the parts, using kits designed by Andrew Gatt (  The challenge is to run the marble for the longest amount of time--bonus points to the winner!  A sense of competition really brings out the best in kids.  This year I had an exceptional group and the results were fantastic!
Since Physics works hand in hand with engineering disciplines there are many design challenges that we have throughout the year.  We start with a rocket.  This is a basic introduction that simply requires the students to follow blueprints.  Next is an egg-drop apparatus.  The purpose is to build a device that allows an egg to fall from a height of 10m and not break on impact. Students do a lot of research to help them decide on a feasible design.  Then comes the roller coaster.  It takes about two weeks of design and building.  Students are allowed a great deal more freedom and they use trial and error to learn the dos and don'ts in construction.  Gravity is NOT their friend.  We are currently designing and building boats as part of our unit on Fluid Dynamics.  In this challenge, students must build a boat that floats the most pennies.  They must create a blueprint for their design and stay within a budget for their materials.  We also design and build kites and Rube-Goldberg machines.  In my class, we value the learning that comes from making mistakes and then fixing them.  These special projects provide a fun and safe atmosphere for students to learn.

Reception in the Library

After the learners set up their roller coasters, our library visitors took notice instantly. They were full of questions about the projects, and they wanted to roll marbles in them to watch how each worked. I even posted pictures of the roller coasters on Twitter and quickly received many inquiries from around the country! Imagine how this must have made Mrs. Self and her students feel! The interest generated by their products in the library was a perfect opportunity to encourage visiting students to create their own innovations in our makerspace area.

Two Students Make Comments On Video

Next Steps

When we returned to school after our winter break, Mrs. Self asked other librarians on our campus if the rollercoasters could be displayed in their schools. A few days later, I received photos from teacher librarians at both the primary and intermediate schools at Lakeside. Tammy Catlett, teacher librarian at Lakeside Primary School, shared this brief reflection.

"I had two classes that dragged their teachers into the library to make sure they saw the roller coasters and to tell them about it.  This morning one of our kindergarteners said he wished he could come to the library one hundred million days so he could play with them!" 

This shows that school libraries can be excellent places to display student work no matter the grade level. Perhaps we should consider sharing the work of learners from all schools. In addition, by inviting science and/ or math classes to display their projects provides an opportunity to get them into the library. It is possible to develop such activities to include students presenting their projects or even leading maker sessions that empower others to build such things. We can also share our books on similar projects and information.

I'm so glad that Mrs. Self decided to reach out to us for this partnership. Her students have inspired our learning community and school district in new ways. They have also mentored younger students by modeling these skills. I hope we can find ways to continue supporting such class projects. Hopefully, this "ride" has only just begun!

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Have a Future Ready New Year.

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