MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating Speed and Velocity

Investigating Speed and Velocity

Kathy Serratore, Hayfield Elementary School, Hayfield, MN 55940, based on a lab activity from the Holt Science and Technology Series, Lab Workbook p. 89-93.
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In this investigation, students will work in groups to design a model roller coaster, which will be used to clock the fastest speed for the rider (ball bearing/marble) The groups will build roller coaster models and modify and adjust them to find the design that will produce the optimum speed. Students will create a data collection sheet to record their tests so that it can be shared with the class as well as drawing a detailed diagram of their model.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to use their prior knowledge of roller coasters with which to apply a knowledge of forces and motion to design and construct a fast roller coaster. Students will learn about average speed, velocity, and acceleration. Students will practice data collection by recording their observations using charts and diagrams in a scientific journal which they will share with their class.

Context for Use

This activity can be done with middle school students in a traditional classroom. Depending on the size of the classroom, you might want to move to a larger space such as a cafeteria. Three students per group works nicely but when you have more groups, more space is needed. The lesson time recommended is 3-4 45 minute lessons which is needed to allow enough time to test the models, journal, and time to ask questions.

Subject: Physics:Classical Mechanics
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)

Description and Teaching Materials

This lesson can be used to introduce a unit on matter in motion. Most students have ridden on a roller coaster, and the bigger and faster the better. Students will share their experiences and knowledge of roller coasters to begin the discussion of speed and velocity. Using vinyl tubing, ball bearings and a handful of materials in your classroom, students will work in groups to design a roller coaster model to test for speed. A classroom competition will help to add to the excitement. Students will record their tests and observations in a scientific journal. Students will share their findings and results with their groups and the class to find model with the most speed. This activity lends itself well to applying the calculations of speed and velocity.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Items to Note: Be sure to allow for enough space for students to test their models. With a large class and the size of middle school students, a cafeteria can be a good option. Also, in the future, I will spend much more time establishing with the students what I expect them to journal so their work can be more useful in comparing their findings with the other groups. The first time I did this activity, I tried to just have the students use old garden hose and although this is cheaper, it created too many variables. The vinyl tubing can be saved and reused for other things.


Students will be assessed by class participation and through their scienfic journal. There are 3-4 questions regarding their observations of their models and comparing it to other models in the class along with test data and diagrams of their model. Students will know ahead of time they will be expected to share their journals.


Grade 6 - Physical Science III.F.4 - the student will use a frame of reference to describe the position, speed and acceleration of an object and the student will measure the speed of an object.

References and Resources