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Using Paper Roller Coasters to Educate About STEM

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Using Paper Roller Coasters to Educate About STEM

Jennifer Kern and Brian Pattengale shared their engineering knowledge to inspire future STEM professionals during the Avenues of Scientific Discovery conference held on April 2, 2022. This one-day event is hosted by North Dakota State University for up to 300 middle and high school students to cultivate an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).  

Jennifer and Brian – who are engineers from HEI’s team in Fargo, ND – led a workshop called “Design, It, Model It, Build It” that taught students about the engineering design process using construction paper and marbles.  Jennifer and Brian both were driven to volunteer to help expose young students to the possibilities of what the field of civil engineering can provide. "A lot of the things we design are not always visible," stated Brian. "I wanted to show the infrastructure behind what you can see and how important it is to make the things you can see function."

After explaining some of the key elements to creating a 3D model and showing students an example of how something drawn on paper can become a reality, Jennifer and Brian issued a series of challenges:

  • Could the students draw up a sketch of what they wanted their paper roller coaster to look like?
  • Would they be able to build their roller coaster as planned using just paper and tape?
  • Would a marble be able to complete the roller coaster?
During the workshop, Jennifer and Brian helped the students build their roller coasters providing advice and support (literally). Happily, most of the roller coasters worked and the students said they enjoyed the activity! 

"I really enjoyed working with the kids! It was great to see some of their teamwork and communication skills. It was great to be able to help them create what they had imagined, and only within one hour!" states Jennifer. 

Brian and Jennifer helping students
Brian Pattengale (left) and Jennifer Kern (right) led a workshop to help students apply engineering skills to design and build a paper roller coaster that could transport marbles.

Roller coaster made of paper