Paper Roller Coasters: A Real Life Science Application

On April 24, our Fairmont Historic Anaheim Campus 8th graders gathered in the gym for the event of the year: paper roller coaster building. The annual event consists of students creating a roller coaster, made of paper and tape, with the goal of getting a marble through the coaster from start to finish the quickest. The event also challenges students to build a better coaster than their teachers, who steal spare parts from the students to make their own coaster.

The event started a few days before as students broke into teams and spent the weekend cutting out paper pieces for their coasters and creating a game plan. Monday morning, they sat eagerly in the gym, all of their paper pieces strewn out around the floor in front of them, waiting anxiously for the go-ahead to start building. The paper roller coaster project, while fun, gives students a practical application of physics principles.

“We’re doing a lesson on physics right now, so we’re trying to learn how to use momentum and force, and how to use acceleration in the right places,” explained 8th grader Emily B.

The students had until 2:30 pm to finish their paper roller coasters. At that time, teachers began the judging process and students from other grade levels were welcomed into the gym to see the elaborate coasters. The coasters delighted the younger students who saw SpongeBob SquarePants, Disney’s Pixar, Minecraft, and other beloved franchises featured on the projects.

When asked what their favorite coaster was, several 3rd graders gathered around to make their opinions known.

“Minecraft!” Raymond H. and Sky P. said excitedly.

A gaming system set up amongst one of the paper roller coasters.

It wasn’t difficult to see why the coaster had caught their attention. The Minecraft team had programmed lights along their paper roller coaster and set up a gaming system so observing students could actually play the popular world-building video game. Team member, Alex, set up the game system by programming a Raspberry Pi to run the game. The younger students may have been more impressed by playing Minecraft during school hours than the computer science work that went into the project, but it was undeniably an impressive feat.

The Minecraft team wasn’t the only group to make use of electronics, the Pixar team also decorated their paper roller coaster with lights, and though there was no electronic game system, they won the day by beating their teachers’ coaster time.

“It went really well,” said Team Pixar members, Elisabeth F. and Emily B.  “We beat the teachers and, so far, we have the longest time.” Team Pixar wins the 8th Grade Paper Roller Coaster Competition

Moments later, the team officially won, beating out all the teams’ times, and they gathered for photos in excitement.

Once the winners were announced and school buses began to pull up, signaling the end of an exciting school day, students took joy in destroying the coasters that took them all day to build. The teams joined together to quickly remove any electronic pieces so they could safely jump into the pile of paper and call it a day.

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Shelby Wagner - 1st Grade Teacher Fairmont Historic AnaheimTop Teacher & Skating Champion
Shelby “My favorite part of being a teacher is the children I get to teach.”
  • Is one of the head teachers for the Fountain Valley Artistic Skating Club, teaching regional and national champions. She also teaches beginner classes every Saturday morning.
  • Every year, her students are amazed to find that their teacher has a life outside of the classroom.
“I love feeling like I’m part of a family [at Fairmont].”
Keira Kamath - 5th Grade Fairmont Anaheim HillsScience & Tennis Superstar
keira “I like how there are so many different specialty classes at Fairmont Anaheim Hills, like art, music, PE, science lab, computer lab, and Spanish.”
  • She would like to be a professional tennis player when she grows up, or maybe a doctor.
  • Loves dance and plays the piano
  • Her favorite class is science “because you get to figure out stuff, and I like to do experiments.”
Nicholas Aghaian - 7th Grade Fairmont Historic AnaheimKicking His Way to Med School
nicolas“The teachers and the amount of support they provide to not only me, but to the whole entire community here at Fairmont is probably what I like most about attending Fairmont Historic Anaheim.”
  • He would like to be a professional soccer player, or a doctor specializing in the field of sports medicine.
  • Enjoys basketball, piano, and soccer pitch.
  • His favorite subject is math “because I like to be challenged, and math is full of challenges.”
Gianluca De Gregoris – 2nd Grade Fairmont North TustinDancing Toward Greatness
dancing"What I like most about Fairmont is that I get to learn and meet new friends.”
  • He wants to be a professional dancer when he grows up.
  • Is trained in ballet and ballroom dancing.
  • Loves writing and creating new stories.
Nicole Heyman - Kindergarten Teacher Fairmont Anaheim HillsLaying a Foundation for Lifelong Learning
Nicole "The best part about teaching at Fairmont is being able to work with a diverse group of students who are all incredibly talented. It is amazing to be able to challenge students at such a young age and watch these children grow throughout the year.”
  • Loves camping, reading, and traveling
  • Her students love learning random things about her – like the fact that when she was in kindergarten she wanted to be Spiderman when she grew up.
  • Her proudest moments are the times when a student on campus is excited to see her, oftentimes telling her that she’s “the best teacher in the world.” “I live for those moments.”
“I choose to teach at Fairmont because of the sense of community, as well as the drive for our students to succeed.”
DJ Clovis - Music Teacher Fairmont North TustinRunning to the Rhythm
DJ Clovis “I get to work with amazing staff, faculty, parents, and most importantly, students!”
  • Teaches music to all grades — from pre-kindergarten through 8th grade
  • Coaches (or has coached) football, basketball, and Run Club
  • Plays bass trombone
  • NJHS Conflict Resolution Coach
  • He has run 15 marathons and 4 ultra marathons.
“The best part of teaching at Fairmont is the autonomy — being able to create a program that fits all of my students. At Fairmont North Tustin, I get to help with a lot of different activities.”