Lesson 2: Transportation Energy Types


Now that we understand the basic physics principles of a roller coaster, we are going to delve deeper to compare types of energy and understand the relationships between them. How do kinetic, potential, mechanical, and thermal energies work together to power roller coasters?


You will identify and compare energy types used in a roller coaster.

Gather These Materials

  • Sheet of blank paper and writing utensil

Time to Complete

40 to 50 Minutes


  1. If you are in school, take turns demonstrating your roller coasters to your teacher and classmates. Explain your design choices and what problems you solved in the building process. If you are learning from home, contact your classmates over Zoom, Skype, or another distance learning collaboration tool to demonstrate your roller coasters to one another. Alternatively, you can share your pictures and/or videos of your rollercoaster with your classmates via email or text.
  1. Whether in person or over video call, email, or text, discuss with your classmates what you learned through the experience of building your roller coasters. Record your answers to the following questions in the Notes tool.
    1. What were some common problems that classmates experienced?
    2. What were some ways that those problems were solved?
    3. Which solutions were the most effective?
    4. If you had the opportunity to build another roller coaster, what would you do differently this time around?
  1. Watch the video “How Does A Roller Coaster Work?” to review the roles of force and energy in roller coasters.
  1. Based on your roller coaster building experience, the discussion with your classmates, and the information from the video, write 4 to 6 sentences to explain the roles of gravity, potential energy, kinetic energy, acceleration, and friction in the design of roller coasters.

Let’s Get Started

  1. As we prepare to undertake the endeavor of our design-thinking project, we must have a firm grasp of a few more key concepts related to physics and engineering. First, quickly review the learning standards you’ll be addressing in this course so you’ll have an idea of which concepts will be covered.

  1. Review key terms to aid in your understanding of the physics of roller coasters.

  1. Refer to this website for more in-depth information about and examples of different types of energy.
  1. As you read through the information, use the matching activity below to guide your learning. You must match the type of energy to its corresponding example.

Let’s Get to Work

  1. Explore the Energy in a Roller Coaster Ride interactive to see the concepts put into action. This roller coaster simulation shows the change in potential energy, kinetic energy, and acceleration through the course of a roller coaster ride. First, click “play” to watch in its entirety. Then, click “step” to see the change broken down step by step.
  1. Use the definitions of key terms as a reference when reading this article from PBS, which provides background information for the interactive simulation.
  1. Collaborate with a partner in person or over video call, email, or text to discuss the following questions as you explore the simulation. Complete the document and upload when you are finished.

Let’s Wrap Up

  1. Think of an example from everyday life where potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy, or vice versa. On a blank sheet of paper, draw a diagram that illustrates the transformation, using the interactive activity as an example. Take a picture of your drawing and upload it below.
  1. Describe the transformation of energy in 2-4 sentences below. (For example: When I carry a sled to the top of a snowy hill, the potential energy of the sled increases. As I stand with my sled at the top of the hill, the kinetic energy is zero and the potential energy is at its maximum. As I slide down the hill, the potential energy of the sled decreases and its kinetic energy increases.)

Be sure to upload all of your completed PDFs and photos before moving on to the next lesson.