Pennbrook students build rollerdoasters ...
Fourteen-year-old Matthew Rinck set his team’s roller coaster car at the top of the track and released it.
It whirled around the wall-mounted track that technology education teacher Andrew Hollstein built out of K’Nex construction toys, and then, tragedy — a half-inch ball bearing representing a perVRn flHw RuW RI WKH FDr.
“We lost one,” Matthew said.
HH LGHnWLfiHG WKH SrREOHP — an issue with the seat belt. The rubber bands holding the ball bearings in place were too close together, so he added another band.
This is what Hollstein intended to show the students in his eighth-grade exploring technology class — how to problem solve by applying principles of engineering and science while having fun at the same time.
It took Hollstein more than a month to build the roller coaster track. He received a $600 grant from the North Penn Educational Foundation for the supplies.
He got the idea from an online posting by a teacher in Canada, who detailed how to build the track and mount it to the wall, as well as the learning outcomes for the students.
“It gives them a complete picture,” he said. “They’re learning about centrifugal force, kinetic energy, Newton’s Law of Motion. They have to do the research and understand the concepts and how the forces work. If something goes wrong, you say, ‘OK, that didn’t work, what do I do differently?’” The dozen students in Hollstein’s class are given a budget of $250,000 in imaginary money to create a successful coaster car. A test run on the track costs them $10,000, for example, and supplies such as extra rubber bands run into the thousands. If a ball bearing, or “person,” falls out during a test run, students are docked $40,000 in legal fees. The goal is for them to come up with the best possible design and have as much money as possible remaining, Hollstein said. They created the coaster cars out of blocks of foam, which are carved and shaved, then placed into a vacuum former that heats up a sheet of plastic.
Callista Weigel, 13, stood on a stool and placed her team’s blue coaster car at the top of the track. It was a success — all three of their “people” remained in the car. Perfecting the restraints was the toughest part of the task, said 14-year-old Alice Wang, Callista’s teammate along with Natalie Kulak, 13. They crisscrossed the rubber bands over the ball bearings and tied them underneath, and also built indentations into the design to keep them in place. “It was interesting. I never had the opportunity to work with K’Nex before,” Natalie said.” I can appreciate how much work it takes to create a car like this. If we had to design the track too, it would be ridiculously hard.” All three said they probably wouldn’t want to ride the roller coaster if it was a real ride – much of the track is upside down. “I feel like I’d die if I rode it,” Callista said.
After adjusting his team’s car, Matthew ran it through the track again. This time, none of the riders fell out.
“Yes!” he said, raising his hands. “None of them fell out. I’m so happy.”
This year the roller coaster lesson is in the beta test stage. Next school year, Hollstein plans to offer the lesson to ninth-graders and tweak it a little to focus more Rn WKH VFLHnWLfiF DVSHFWV, DnG he’d also like them to use elements of computer-aided design. In the future, he’d like to establish a ranking system to keep track of the best designs year-by-year.
He’d also like to consider the risks the students take in their design approach. For example, using three ball bearings would be riskier than using two, because there is a greater chance of one falling out.
Having students do this type of hands-on work, applying knowledge through an understanding of scientific concepts, falls in line with the Keystone Exams, which these students will take in high school.
The Keystones test students’ depth of knowledge and cognitive complexity rather than asking questions with fact-based answers that can be memorized.
“It’s not the answer, but how do you get to the answer?” Hollstein said. “This class is so great because we get to show them the thought process.”
Eighth-grader Andy Gagen places a car in start position as teacher Andrew Hollstein makes a last-second adjustment to the coaster track in the exploring technology class at Pennbrook Middle School April 29.
Eighth-grade student Natalie Kulak uses a screwdriver for final assembly of a roller coaster car she helped design in the exploring technology class at Pennbrook Middle School April 29.