STEAM in Action: Rolling through coasters

Turning one-time use roller coaster kits into a design-based, long-lasting project.

As summer approaches, many youth are excited to get outside and head to the speed and thrills of amusement parks. With classroom time coming to an end at the same time, how can a summer excursion to ride coasters be fun and educational?

There is a ton of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) thinking and technical knowledge that goes into keeping rides working and a park running smoothly. One way to explore engineering and design before a trip to the amusement part is through model roller coasters. These are great for all sorts of physics lessons, but also lets youth build relationships and life skills while collaborating on a creation. To get the most out of these aspects, finding ways to keep the learning rolling is important.

Rachel Puckett in Oakland County and Cydney Insixiengmay in Bay County work with the Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards program. Puckett and Insixiengmay had youth mentees who had a blast with making roller coasters from a store-bought kit that suspends rubber tubing from metal stands. Hoping to have youth and their mentors stay interested in the project and grow their relationship, they developed a strategy that encourages design thinking and kept the project going for multiple program meetings.

Youth mentees and their mentors jumped right in and tried building a few versions of a roller coaster with the kit to try out the materials. After reflecting on their first versions, participants were able to express their ideas for a new coaster by drawing out their ideas. Their mentor then helped them combine ideas from the drawings to create a team design for the second coaster. From there, they built a prototype of their coaster out of recycled materials that could work with marbles and test the design. With a well thought-out and tested design, youth and mentors built their new coasters out of the kit materials.

This approach takes making roller coasters to a new level and supports some cool concepts that can work for other projects by carrying over this approach.

  • Expresses ideas in 2D (drawing) and 3D (modeling), and different materials helps strengthen a design.
  • Team collaboration and communication through combining individual ideas into one design.
  • Uses an iterative process that reflects experiential and design-thinking methods.
  • Get the most out of expensive project kits by designing and testing out ideas with cheaper material.

Interested in using this approach before a trip to the amusement park, but don’t have a trip planned? Michigan 4-H has you covered with a 4-H Day at Michigan’s Adventure! On June 4, 2016, Michigan 4-H members will have access to reduced admission and a great deal on lunch at Michigan’s Adventure in Muskegon, Michigan. For more information on the event, download the brochure or go to: 4-H Day at Michigan’s Adventure.

Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards is a 4-H Youth Mentoring program offered by Michigan State University Extension in numerous communities in Michigan. The program uses various STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) projects to help youth build long-term mentoring relationships with adult mentors. Since the focus of the activities is to strengthen their mentor relationship, projects often put a unique spin on STEAM that encourages improving communication, teambuilding and life skills.

This series, STEAM in Action, features various creative approaches and the mentoring staff member who facilitated these great ideas. Watch for more STEAM in Action articles featuring creative project approaches from our team, including:

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