Maggie’s Senior (5th and 6th grade) science students have been learning about potential and kinetic energy. To make it tangible and fun, Maggie had the students each design and build a car with K’NEX pieces. The students could opt for several different design features, such as wheel size and number, body length and width, and distribution of mass. Students based these decisions on earlier experiments in which they had controlled all design variables except one, determining how that design feature impacted the performance of the car. They made predictions about how far their cars would go based on design and mass. Cars were tested on ramps set up in the school’s central “Big Room.”
Measuring multiple trials gave students a chance to hone their metric measuring skills. The students were surprised by many of the findings, and discovered that the biggest cars did not always travel the farthest. Graphing the results has helped students deepen their understanding of the physics concept: Potential Energy is proportional to Mass x Height.
The students also drew ads to feature the different design features of their cars. The students are still analyzing the data from the ramp trials, and will plot their final results on a graph that measures mass vs. distance traveled. Students have been thinking about real-world car design features like stability, control and fuel efficiency in new ways!