Roller Coasters and Math

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One goal this year is to have my classes complete more interdiciplinary projects. These projects move beyond district-adopted texts and often involve multiple subjects and student groups.  I find value in having these projects as students often need to work in teams and apply their mathematical thinking in different situations.

Back in September I came across the tag #paperrollercoaster.  After completing a quick search I came across multiple pages where teachers had students create paper roller coasters and answer questions.  The questions were often related to math/Science objectives.  I thought this had potential so I finalized a decision and ordered a set from here.  My thinking was that if one worked out well I might order more.

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The materials arrive around a week after I placed the order.  I decided to use the project with a third grade class.  After a brief explanation, students were placed in three groups.


One group drew out and created an outline for the base on a piece of cardboard.  The group was asked to create six square bases where students would be placing support columns. The second group scored, cut out and attached the base columns together to be placed on the outline of the first group.  The third group was in charge of creating the support beams. Students scored, cut out and opened up both ends of the beams so they could be added to the columns.

All groups had approximately 20 minute to work in their group.  They were supplied with tape, scissors and directions.  Afterwards, the class met in the front of the room and we started to build the base for the roller coaster.  During that time the class started to discuss some of the math vocabulary we’ll be using as the building continues. Most of the terms will be coming from the geometry and measurement math strands.  The terms area, surface area, volume, length, formulas, speed and height were all discussed before the students left for their next class.  I appreciate the multiple math entry points available through the use of this project.  As the project progresses I’m planning to add activities/sheets that we use.  In the meantime, feel free to check out a few lessons here.


Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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