PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Ayer Middle School eighth-grader Monica Bacon puts a marble into the Jungle Madness roller coaster she helped create for a science competition.

If you thought you had to trek to Six Flags or Walt Disney World to experience a good roller coaster, think again.

On Friday, March 24, the eighth-graders at the Ayer Middle School set up science projects they have been working on for the past three weeks, in the cafeteria. Their task was to design and build a roller coaster using primarily construction paper, glue, cardboard and tape. Science teacher Scott Boyd explained to his class, “the goal of this project is to be able to find and measure all the physics behind a roller coaster of your design.”

The instructions to the students were set clearly by Boyd. The coaster had to have at least two hills and one turn — and one “mystery item” such as a corkscrew, loop, jump, drop or reverse. Each team of students had to keep a daily progress log, and they had to create “a scaled drawing of the coaster and label where Newton’s Laws of Motion apply,” according to the instructions.

“This project encompasses a lot of different topics,” said Boyd, who has taught in the Ayer public schools for five years. “The students learn about physics. They explore speeds, velocity, potential and kinetic energy, scale and diagram drawing, graphing and most importantly working with a team of peers under a strict deadline.”

On the afternoon of March 24, the teams of eighth-graders set up their coasters in the cafeteria for the school population to come in and vote for their favorites. Each projects had a certain theme — there was a Candyland coaster, a Dr. Seuss coaster, and even a ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ creation.

Maddie Rice and Lila Grallert’s project involved McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.

“We feel that McDonald’s toys are treated unfairly,” Grallert said, “and our roller coaster celebrates their revolt!” She explained how she and her teammate used Popsicle sticks, construction paper, toilet paper tubes, miscellaneous household items, and lots and lots of hot glue and duct tape in building the device.

Rice and Grallert’s written description included an explanation of why they felt the toys at McDonald’s are treated badly. It outlined the fate that befalls the trinkets residing in a Happy Meal box — They are trapped in airtight bags, they travel in darkness when the box is closed, then they are opened by a child only to be loved for a moment before being discarded into some junk toy bin in the abyss of a kid’s room. A marble makes its way down chutes and around loops, sailing past McDonald’s plastic creatures and sample Happy Meal toys, before it plops into an empty chicken-nugget container.

After the voting was concluded, the winning team was announced. The first-place winners were Kari Smiraglia and Olivia Hugal, who won a $60 mall gift certificate for their effort.

The theme of their coaster was “Jack’s Nightmare” and it was judged under the following criteria: All parts of the coaster worked, the coaster was unique and had a theme, it was not sloppily built, and the team gave a good explanation of how their coaster worked.