Roller Coaster Physics for Kids is Fun!
I wish I had been introduced to physics at a young age in a way that made it fun. I learned physics, painfully, in high school and struggled through pre-med physics in college. I never got an intuitive sense of physics and my impression was that it was a formula to be memorized and calculated.
When I discovered the Roller Coaster Physics app (I think someone emailed me with a code), it sounded like an app for high school students. I was shocked to find that my son, then 7-years-old, not only insisted on using it upon finding it on my iPhone but was able to design the roller coaster of his dreams. The physics part was snuck in, which is just the way I like it.
I tried to design a roller coaster and I had trouble manipulating the track. My roller coaster accidentally went partially underground making it a lethal ride for my riders. My son thinks this is a gaming app (it is!). His roller coasters would have corkscrews and tunnels with a background in outer space. And his riders were not killed during their ride.
Once you design your roller coaster using easy-to-use tools, you get to try it out virtually. This is where the fun (and physics) begins. You really get a sense for what it feels like to ride the roller coaster, minus the stomach drop, and there is a counter that runs alongside showing you first, the potential energy, as the roller coaster winds up, and then, the kinetic energy, as the roller coaster takes off.
I thought it would be fun to combine this app with building an actual roller coaster using K’nex Atomic Coaster and I am giving the K’nex set away!
K’nex Atomic Coaster, $48
Be warned: the coaster builds over 4 feet tall, using over 850 KNEX pieces and resulting in 37+ feet of track! It’s fully operational with 2 coaster cars and a motorized chain lift. You will be thankful that the instructions are color-coded instructions, although instructions that require color coding scare the bejesus out of me! However, my kids would be fine with these instructions! The age recommendation is 9 and up but I think my 8-year-old would love this toy!
Roller Coaster Physics App
I have more details on this app on my post of Best Science Apps for Kids.
Coaster Physics. $.99 for the app. What are the laws of Physics governing the motion of a roller coaster? How are speed and acceleration related? How does the g-force change at different points along the track? (Click on image to view at iTunes.)
I think that if kids play with both the app and the toy, they get a message that 1) physics is creative and 2) physics is fun. And, roller coasters, of course, rock!
Roller Coaster Books for Kids
Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
Marla Frazee describes the thrill of riding a roller coaster for the first time in this charming picture book!
Roller Coasters: A Thrill Seeker’s Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines by Robert Coker
A non-fiction book that takes the reader through the twists and turns of the world’s most extraordinary rides. For ages 9 and up.
A few Physics Terms for Kids
I found it easy to sneak these physics terms into the conversation as I “rode” the roller coasters my son built. It’s especially fun to watch the energy counters move as you go up versus down the roller coaster. And it’s just an easy leap to compare speed to acceleration. I think familiarization with the vocabulary of physics makes it more intuitive, particularly when they can relate it to something they are doing. I would love to hear what your child thinks of the roller coaster app and if this helps spark an interest in physics. Thanks for sharing!
Potential energy is the energy of an object or a system due to the position of the body or the arrangement of the particles of the system. (i.e. moving up the roller coaster)
Acceleration is the change in the velocity of a body with respect to time.
Why Does Your Stomach Drop On A Roller Coaster? (No one knows for sure!)
“The honest answer is that no one knows with absolute certainty,” said Dr. Brad Sagura, a surgeon at University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital. “There’s a cast network of nerve connections within the body, handling messages between the spinal cord, the brain and other structures,” Sagura said. from CBS Minnesota
To win the K’NEX Atomic Coaster, please see rafflecopter below.
Congrats to Ann. She won the K’NEX Atomic Coaster!