Middle School Inquiry Lab on Acceleration

In this lab students will create a simple marble roller coaster and measure the speed of the marble at various points of the track. They will use this data to calculate the acceleration of the marble.

Each inquiry lab will contain an essential question that will drive the lesson… For this lesson, the essential question is:

  • How does the velocity of a marble change as it moves through a roller coaster track?


Students will begin the lab by reading the essential question and background information.  This can be done individually, as lab groups, or as a whole class.  If you consider lab groups, you also might include some type of whole class formative checks before digging into the lab.

Materials List:

  • 2 -3 pieces of foam pipe insulation cut in half lengthwise
  • Masking tape
  • Marble
  • Meter stick
  • Stopwatch
  • Optional: plastic or paper cup


For this lab, you will need to purchase foam pipe insulation (or pool noodles) and use scissors to cut each piece of insulation in half lengthwise. These pieces will form the track for the coaster. Plan ahead on where you will have students create their coasters. Depending on classroom space and your preferences, students can tape the pipe insulation to things like desks, walls, and chairs to give their roller coasters height and support.

Once you have figured out where students will construct their roller coasters, students will have to use masking tape to piece together the section of foam insulation. Students will have to make sure that they include one loop and big hill in their design. Also, students will mark intervals at 1, 2, and 3 meter intervals. Optional item to add is a cup to catch the marble at the end of the coaster. When the roller coaster design is complete, students will sketch their creations on their lab sheet and label where they think the marble is experience the fastest and slowest velocities.

Then students will have to use a stopwatch and take data as to what time the marble reached the 1, 2, and 3 meter intervals. Using this data, students will calculate the average speed and calculate the average acceleration of the marble on the roller coaster.

Normally at this point in the lab, students will be checked for understanding by answering questions about their findings. Here are a few that come with the lab:

  • On the roller coaster below, at which points will a rider experience positive acceleration?
  • At which points will a rider experience negative acceleration?
  • If a roller coaster accelerates from rest (0 m/s) to 10 m/s in 4 seconds, what is the coaster’s acceleration?


Students will go back to the essential question and write a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) to conclude the lab.  Once completed, students will reflect back on their learning by answering the following questions:

  1. Did your predictions of the fastest and slowest points of a roller coaster turn out to be true? Why or why not?
  2. Where did the marble experience positive acceleration? Where did it experience negative acceleration?
  3. Compare your data to another group’s data. Try to determine what made the differences and explain those differences here:


All of the Kesler Science inquiry labs come with three different modification levels.  Each labs is differentiated using the icons below.

Kesler Science Inquiry Lab Modifications


TEKS: 8.6B – Differentiate between speed, velocity, and acceleration.



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