Learning Physics with Roller Coasters at Walt Disney World

Living a lifestyle of learning sometimes mean that learning happens when you least expect it. It can even show up when you are standing in line for a ride while on a Walt Disney World vacation.

When Learning Finds You Even on Vacation

We were standing in line for Big Thunder Mountain at Walt Disney World. When the sweet cast member lend down to ask Emily would she prefer the front or the back. Surprised by a question she was not prepared for she stood with a blank stare on her face. In an effort to help her decide the cast member told her the back was faster. She nodded in agreement and we boarded the caboose of the Big Thunder Mountain Train.

When we got off of the ride she started asking questions like: Why is the back faster than the front? How is it possible for it to be faster? If it is faster why is it the back and not the front? If it was faster wouldn’t it run over the rest of the train? I have learned to cherish and challenge her quirky little mind so instead of just answering her questions I proposed we test it and see for ourselves.

And thus the physics lesson began!

Roller coasters are a great way to demonstrate physics. Why not learn physics at Disney World using their roller coasters and following your childs lead?!?

Experiment with Physics at Disney World

We discussed what we wanted to test and decided on testing for which felt the fastest the front versus the back of the roller coaster. We rode Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Slinky Dog Dash. We rode the each in the very front as well as the very back. Emily quickly decided that it most definitely did feel faster in the back of the roller coasters.

When we came home from our Disney trip we read The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks and watched the video The Physics of Roller Coasters on YouTube. This helped her understand the why behind roller coasters feeling faster in the back versus the front. To further her understanding she completed numerous challenge cards from ThinkFun Roller Coaster Challenge.

Physics at Disney Roller Coaster Science

But it didn’t end there!

We went on another trip two weeks later and Emily decided she needed to do further research. She wanted to ride the same rides again in the back and rank them from slowest to faster based on feeling. We all agreed that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train felt the slowest, then Big Thunder Mountain, next Slinky Dog Dash, with Space Mountain feeling the fastest.

We were all surprised to find out that Space Mountain is actually the slowest of them all. Space Mountain top speeds are top speeds are approximately 28 mph. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train top speeds are approximately 34 mph. Big Thunder Mountain top speeds are approximately 36 mph.  Slinky Dog Dash top speeds are approximately 40 mph.

Emily made a hypothesis that Space Mountain feels faster because it is dark and it tricks your senses. So we will be experimenting further in the near future.

We had a blast learning and experimenting with physics at Disney World. Emily immediately began building her own amusement park in Minecraft using the new principles she learned. We can’t wait to learn and ride more!