The Roller Coaster Model Interactive is an adjustable-size file that displays nicely on smart phones, on tablets such as the iPad, on Chromebooks, and on laptops and desktops. The size of the Interactive can be scaled to fit the device that it is displayed on. The compatibility with smart phones, iPads, other tablets, and Chromebooks make it a perfect tool for use in a 1:1 classroom.


Teaching Ideas and Suggestions:

This Interactive provides the learner with a rich, interactive environment for studying both energy concepts and Newton's laws concepts for the motion of a roller coaster car. Three pre-made designs are provided - a ramp (or incline), a loop, and a series of hills. The simulation animates the motion of a coaster car along the track designs and displays energy bar charts as the car moves along the track. In addition to the pre-made track designs, learners can create designs of their own by dragging hot spots (small grey circles) to desired locations. The velocity of the car and the gravity (W) and normal (N) force vectors can be displayed as vector arrows; this feature can be toggled on and off.  Finally, friction forces can be added or removed. Learners will quickly observe that the inclusion of frictional forces results in the loss of mechanical energy.

The environment allows a learner to study mechanical energy conservation, mechanical energy dissipation (with friction included), conversion of energy forms from potential to kinetic and vice versa, the effect of forces upon velocity, and centripetal force and tangential velocity along curved paths. Given the wide range of concepts that are addressed by this Interactive, the Roller Coaster Model could be used at just about any stage of a learning cycle in a work-energy unit or a circular motion unit. It also could be used for just about any purpose.

The Physics Classroom has prepared an activity for use with the Roller Coaster Model. The activity is titled Roller Coasters and Energy. The activity steps students through a variety of key concepts using a set of directions and some leading questions. Parts of the activity are very directed. Other parts include more open-ended, inquiry-styled questions that encourage the user to manipulate a roller coaster design in order to explore a question.The activity was designed to be used early in a learning cycle on energy conservation and will address the concepts of mechanical energy conservation, energy-bar charts, and the PE-KE relationship.Teachers are encouraged to photocopy and use the activity with their classes.

Our Roller Coaster Model simulation is now available with a Concept Checker. Do the simulation. Then follow it up with the Concept Checker.


Related Resources

There are numerous resources at The Physics Classroom website that serve as very complementary supports for the Roller Coaster Model Interactive. These include:
  • Minds On Physics Internet Modules:
    The Minds On Physics Internet Modules include a collection of interactive questioning modules that help learners assess their understanding of physics concepts and solidify those understandings by answering questions that require higher-order thinking. Assignments WE4, WE5, WE6, CG1, CG2, CG3, and CG4 of the Work and Energy and the Circular Motion and Gravitation modules provide great complements to this Interactive. They are best used in the middle to later stages of the learning cycle. Visit the Minds On Physics Internet Modules.

  • Curriculum/Practice: Several Concept Development worksheets at the Curriculum Corner will be very useful in assisting students in cultivating their understanding, most notably ...

    Work-Energy Relationships
    Work-Energy Bar Charts
    Energy Concepts
    Speed and Velocity
    Acceleration and Circular Motion
    Circular Motion and Inertia
    The Centripetal Force Requirement

    Visit the Curriculum Corner.

  • Labwork: 
    Simulations should always support (never supplant) hands-on learning. The Laboratory section of The Physics Classroom website includes several hands-on ideas that complement this Interactive. Five notable lab ideas include ...

    Marble Energy Lab I
    Marble Energy Lab II
    Energy on an Incline Lab
    Making the Turn

    Visit The Laboratory.
  • Science Reasoning Activities:
    Science classrooms should be filled with reasoning activities. There is one related activity in the Circular Motion section of the Science Reasoning Center that will challenge students to employ close reading, data analysis, and logical reasoning. The activity is named ...

    Roller Coaster Loops

    Visit the Science Reasoning Center.

Additional resources and ideas for incorporating Roller Coaster Model into an instructional unit on Work and Energy or on Circular Motion and Newton's Laws can be found at the Teacher Toolkits section of The Physics Classroom website.  Visit Teacher Toolkits.


The Physics Classroom would like to extend a special thanks to Nerd Island Studios for the creation of this HTML5 Interactive. Visit to see more great stuff by Nerd Island Studios.

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