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West Hancock Roller Coaster team

Pictured from left are the members of the West Hancock High School Paper Roller Coaster Design Challenge team: Josef Smith, Owen Leerar, Mazie Erdahl and Derek Oberhelman. 

CLEAR LAKE | Four West Hancock High School students recently got a crash course in roller coaster building and learned about physics and time management along the way.

Josef Smith, Owen Leerar, Mazie Erdahl and Derek Oberhelman participated in the Paper Roller Coaster Design Challenge on Nov. 29 at the Central Rivers Area Education Agency in Clear Lake. 

They said the event was challenging.

"You can't bring anything with you and you can't build anything ahead of time," Smith said. "We are just kind of winging it."

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 for building. 

Materials available at the AEA 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 how long it took for a marble to move downward along the track. The longer it took, the better the score.

Another judging category was the best use of the holiday theme.

The West Hancock team decorated their coaster with a snowman cutout on top and cotton balls at the base to resemble snow. 

Time management was an issue during the build, according to Erdahl. 

"We took too long on the base and didn't have enough time for the coaster," she said.

It also was difficult to figure out what height everything had to be to get the longest time possible for the marble, Erdahl added.

She said they tried to use a lot of curves and funnels in their coaster design so the marble would spiral and not run too fast.

Mandie Sanderman, science consultant with the Central Rivers AEA, said this is the first year the agency has 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.

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