Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Potential and Kinetic Energy unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on the relationship between mass, potential energy, and kinetic energy, tested through experiments and rollercoaster models.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Roller Coaster Mystery + Music Video Phenomenon
Medium makeMake: Design and Conduct an Energy Investigation
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer a Custom Roller Coaster

There are two options for The Solve! Choose to have your students solve either a live video mystery on how potential and kinetic energy can drive a Rube Goldberg machine in a music video or an animated mystery on why a rollercoaster can’t make it to the end of the track! By the end of The Solve, students learn that both mass and potential energy have a huge effect on kinetic energy. (75 mins)

The Alleycats want make sure they win their upcoming bowling competition. To help, students design and conduct an investigation that tests the effect of mass on speed. (120 mins)

Student engineering teams use what they have learned about potential and kinetic energy to design and build the best rollercoaster model from simple materials, (150 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on descriptive relationships between kinetic energy and mass separately from kinetic energy and speed. Examples could include riding a bicycle at different speeds, rolling different sizes of rocks downhill, and getting hit by a wiffle ball versus a tennis ball.]
Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on relative amounts of potential energy, not on calculations of potential energy. Examples of objects within systems interacting at varying distances could include: the Earth and either a roller coaster cart at varying positions on a hill or objects at varying heights on shelves, changing the direction/orientation of a magnet, and a balloon with static electrical charge being brought closer to a classmate’s hair. Examples of models could include representations, diagrams, pictures, and written descriptions of systems.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to two objects and electric, magnetic, and gravitational interactions.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Definitions of Energy

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Learners often have a difficult time thinking of potential energy as stored energy. Emphasize to students that stored energy can come in many forms such as an object’s position (gravitational potential energy) or stored in bonds (chemical potential energy).
  • Learners may not understand that potential and kinetic energy cycle in a system, and decrease as energy is lost to friction and other factors.
  • Learners may initially think that hills along a roller coaster run can be higher than the starting height. This is impossible since there is loss of energy to friction and movement along the track. All subsequent hills and heights must be less than the starting height.


    • Potential Energy
    • Kinetic Energy
    • Speed
    • Mass
    • Distance

Content Expert Title

  • Hans C. von Baeyer
    Chancellor Professor of Physics, Emeritus College of William and Mary


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Vocabulary Cards
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • Potential Energy and Distance

    Medium 338 1680
    In this article, we look at the way that potential energy is stored in objects that are farther away from the ground. Using the example of a roller coaster, we define the word “system” and talk about the benefits of using a model to look at the relationship between potential energy and distance.

  • Energy in Different Clothes

    Medium 108 209
    Just like people may change into different clothes to do different activities, energy also changes. It may look different as heat, kinetic energy and potential energy, but it's really just the same energy in different clothes.

  • MOVE IT!

    Medium 154 593
    Moving isn't always that simple! In this article, students are introduced to the basics of motion. The differences between speed and velocity are discussed as well as simple definitions for both motion and distance.

  • Potential Energy and Distance

    In this article, we look at the way that potential energy is stored in objects that are farther away from the ground. Using the example of a of roller coaster, we define the word "system" and talk about the benefits of using a model to look at the relationship between potential energy and distance