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Briarcliff Manor Sixth-Graders Role-play As Engineers

Briarcliff Middle School sixth-graders used their knowledge of energy to design models for roller coasters in science class.
Briarcliff Middle School sixth-graders used their knowledge of energy to design models for roller coasters in science class. Photo Credit: Briarcliff Manor Union Free School Disctrict

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. -- Briarcliff Middle School’s sixth-grade students are collaborating, exercising their budgeting skills and applying their knowledge of energy as part of a hands-on engineering and design challenge in science class.

“They are asked to apply the rules of the Law of Conservation of Energy, as well as potential and kinetic energy,” said science teacher Julie Gallagher.

Using this knowledge, students are working in small groups to build roller coasters out of basic materials like flexible tubing, masking tape and paper towel tubes that can sustain a marble on the track. The coasters must meet certain requirements, such as having at least one loop, one turn and one hill.

At the beginning of each class, students visit the “Rollercoaster Depot,” where they must expend from their project budget of $15,000 to buy materials and rent tools such as rulers, scissors and a calculator to work on their roller coasters for the day.

They must then balance a checkbook to keep track of their finances. Students practice their leadership skills each day as one student in each group is named lead engineer for the period and wears a badge designating this role. Groups keep track of their progress daily, measuring variables, including the distance of their track and the time it takes the marble to complete the coaster, and then calculating the average speed.

While it’s a grueling process, students are enjoying the adjustments they have to make each day. Said one student, “It’s a trial-and-error process, so it’s OK if we fail.”

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