Physics Carriages

In my MWF fourth period class, my students have been discovering and elaborating on the scientific method. I chose cars & ramps (aka pinewood derby car) as an opening project.  We spent two weeks learning the different parts of the scientific method and how to measure our results.  We create reports (I’m on my fourth week of school and the boys have created at least two science reports a week).  My lessons look something like this:

Intro:  Pose a Question to Students.  What type of Hot Wheels cars goes the farthest?  How would we measure that?  How do we tell other people our results?

Activity One:  Populate The Science Report.  Students create a hypothesis, decide on and gather materials, work out a procedure and then get to..

Activity Two:  Experiment.  After two weeks of experiments with toy cars, wooden contraptions and old derby cars, I led the students in building “Physic Carriages”.  I wanted something cheap, something make-able by ten and eleven year-olds within thirty minutes and something modifiable.  Here’s a pictorial of the build & results.

The physics carriage is made from paint sticks as a chassis, machine nuts as axle bushings, small steel rod for axles and CDs and cardboard for wheels.  Hot glue held everything together and I used medium-sized bolt cutters to cut the axles. 

Half Assembled Physics Carriage

The students glue two nuts onto the paint sticks.  They also cut small squares to glue onto that big hole in the CD wheels.  A little glue and assembly…

Here’s a complete carriage with a few modifications. We race them on tracks made of hardboard and 1/4 inch thick strips glued on to stiffen them up.  I made a number of these little tracks in 1 ft, 2 ft, 3ft and 4 ft lengths.

Activity 3: Reflections & Beyond.  Here, the students discuss their results and try to answer the question, “What Happens Next”?  We blog if we have time.  Science reports get turned in and we go home.

Notes:  Why did I set the lessons up like this?  First, my school does its best to provide project based learning opportunities to its students.  Well, hell-fire and brimstone, if building and launching a car ain’t a project then I don’t know what is.  Second, I find the 3 activity, mostly hands-on offers me an enormous amount of flexibility – I can move between student groups, I can impede progress to prove a point (I booby-trap projects in order to illustrate principles) and I can revise, reflect and instruct as needed.  Lastly, the materials become the planning instead of long chunks of texts, worksheets or lists of directions.

Tell me what you think –

— make it same & keep the rubber side down.

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