CLEAR LAKE | A team of Forest City High School students recently learned on the fly how to build a roller coaster out of paper.

Gabe Staudt, Ellie Reece and Ally Larson were among the participants in the Paper Roller Coaster Design Challenge at the Central Rivers Area Education Agency in Clear Lake. 

"We didn't know what we were doing," Reece said. 

"We just winged it," Staudt added.

Ten high schools had teams participating in the challenge.

The teams were given three hours to build their roller coaster. Coaches were not allowed in the building area until the three hours were up.

"It's officially time to panic," the announcer said when there were only 10 minutes left.

Each team was allowed to bring scissors, rulers, tape and decorations to the competition, but not pre-constructed elements as all building had to be done on site.

Materials available at the site were foam boards to serve as the base for each roller coaster as well as colored sheets of paper for the various components such as the beams, sharp curves, wide curves, loops and funnels.

When the roller coasters were finished, they were judged in several categories, including best use of the holiday theme and how long it took for a marble to move downward along the track. The longer it took, the better the score.

The Forest City students did practice runs with the marble throughout the building process.

"I think that helped a lot," Staudt said. 

They discovered the funnels slow down the marble, so they put in lots of funnels.

They placed small Christmas ornaments on the roller coaster to make it festive.

Mandie Sanderman, science consultant with the Central Rivers AEA, said this is the first year year they've held the Paper Roller Coaster Design Challenge.

Middle school students participated in the challenge on Nov. 8.

The AEA is using the challenge to support Iowa’s new science standards, which have a large engineering component, according to Sanderman.

Justin Putney, who teaches physics and chemistry at Forest City, and Kristine Reece, the district's Extended Learning Program coordinator, accompanied the FCHS team to the competition in Clear Lake. 

Putney said the roller coaster challenge not only teaches the students about engineering and physics, but also promotes teamwork and time management skills. 

Reece said the team was formed a month ago but it was difficult to get everyone together at the same time because "these kids are involved in everything."

However, "I think yesterday we got a good plan together," Putney said.