Rollercoaster Physics at Grenaa Gymnasium

Learning formulas with loops, double tracks and cork screws

On November, 23, the students in 1.u and 1.s received a visit by Mr. Michael B. Nielsen, director of Djurs Sommerland, which is a popular fun fair in the local area. The occasion was that the students had developed no less than 16 roller coaster models ready for presentation and evaluation. Mr. Nielsen presided over the panel of judges which also included physics teachers Claus Løvgren and Jan Møller.
“It has been very interesting to see how the students have strived to integrate many elements in their roller coasters, “ said Mr. Nielsen, referring to the many details in the models and the considerations made by the students concerning not only capability of being realized, safety and thrill factor, but also about how their model would fit into Djurs Sommerland and which category of visitors it would attract.


Physics related to everyday life

Physics teachers Claus Løvgren and Jan Møller have developed the roller coaster physics course in order to make first-year physics more appealing to students who might find other subjects more interesting. “We believe we can motivate them by combining theory with practical aspects of physics so that they can relate what they learn in the physics lessons more easily to their everyday experiences,” Mr. Møller explains. “In this way we enable them to develop innovative ideas with regard to something familiar to them – in this case roller coasters.”
Student responses seem to confirm the hopes of the two teachers. “This was so much more interesting. You get to learn in a different way, “ Thea Rasmussen, 1.s says. She is one of the five students who developed one of two winning models, the double tracked Double Trouble. “I will be able to remember all about it much better now – the formula and how to use it, because now I have pictures of it in my head, “ Sigrid Friis, 1.u adds. She is one of the brains behind the other winning model, the cork-skrew featuring Mine Express.
“You also put more effort and focus into it, because you knew the director of Djurs Sommerland would come and evaluate the result,” says Clara Kroer, 1.s. “He has knowledge about roller coasters and what Djurs Sommerland is going for.”


Students meeting the challenge

Teacher Claus Løvgren explains that the course will be further developed over two years and it is funded mainly by Region Midt, who has contributed with 140.000 kroner. Other elements are also included in the project, for example a new digital textbook system based on the principles of adaptive learning.
Mr. Løvgren finds that the project has already lived up to the expectations. “The students have really met the challenge with great resilience and combined innovative ideas and physics,” says Mr. Løvgren in praise of the students. “Next year we will strive to draw on knowledge from students who have summer jobs in Djurs Sommerland and also to a larger extent than this year integrate more aspects considered by the Djurs Sommerland management when deciding on new roller coasters.”
“This is a lovely project for people like me, who loves roller coasters, and I will be happy to return again next year,” Mr. Nielsen said when he left Grenaa Gymnasium. Probably with images in his head of countless loops, but perhaps especially of the double tracks of Double Trouble and the cork-skrew of the Mine Express.