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Building Cars in the Lab- A Round-Up of Styles

Building Cars in the Lab- A Round-Up of Styles

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Let’s take off on an exciting adventure exploring the world of building cars in the STEM Lab. Get ready to design, construct, and race your cars while learning about motion, mechanics, and even Newton’s Laws!

We have built several different types of cars in the STEM Lab. We have loved them all. Let’s take a closer look at each style. And, of course, I have tips along the way!

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Basic Cars in the STEM Lab

This is a wonderful activity! The designing, building, and rebuilding will challenge your students. You can build a car using a bunch of junk and make one that will roll!

Haha! My original idea was to lay out materials and have students build a car. The first year we had boxes on wheels. So, I changed the focus a little.

Now we build cars that resemble cars. We add all the decor we can! Car tags, steering wheels, seats, and seatbelts.

TIP: The hardest part of building a car is getting the wheels to roll. You can make this basic car challenge easier by not requiring rolling. If you want rolling cars, be prepared to work with students on how an axle makes the motion.

Designing Bottle Cars

Let’s talk about Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion- “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The Bottle Car design uses basic materials (empty water bottles and balloons) to create a rolling car propelled by a balloon’s force.

Trust me, you will have to blow up a balloon several times to teach students how a balloon moves when you let it go.

TIP: Every student needs his or her own balloon. I hand them out so that every team member has a different color. Also, be prepared to give out new balloons during class. They break or get used too much and the team will need a clean one.

Egg Cars in STEM

The Egg Car demonstrated another of Newton’s Laws- the 2nd Law of Motion.

Teams design and build a car that will safely carry an egg down a ramp. So how does it apply to the 2nd Law?

According to the 2nd law, the heavier something is the harder it is to move. We used the ramps to create the force to propel our cars. A steeper ramp should have given us more force to make the car travel farther even when it was heavier. 

This challenge worked great with 3rd graders. They loved trying out the ramps and using EGGS!

TIP: Place your eggs in a plastic bag before using them in the cars. Mess-Free when the car tips. Substitute a bag of pennies for testing the cars on the ramp.

Balloon Cars and Racing

Balloon Cars is similar to Bottle Cars by demonstrating Newton’s 3rd Law.

The materials are easier to work with! Bottle Cars require making holes in the bottle and I use that challenge for older students.

Balloon Cars uses a paper plate as the base of the car so it’s an easier version that younger students can complete.

TIP: For my younger students I draw and cut out the wheels. I keep a large zippered bag of ready-made wheels to give to teams. I have found that 3rd graders have a hard time drawing a wheel (even tracing something) and cutting the circle is a challenge.

TIP: Have RACES! Students love to share their cars and then race them on a track or just across the floor. We have races with the Bottle Cars and Balloon Cars.

Building a Wind Car in the Lab

When I proposed this challenge to a group of 4th graders they thought I had lost my marbles! Building a car propelled by the wind was not something they thought was possible!

Guess what? It worked!

The problem they needed to solve was how to attach a “sail” to the body of the car and “catch” the wind of a fan to make the car move.

We used simple materials- cardboard tubes and cardstock for the sail.

TIP: Ask parents to save cardboard tubes for you!

It’s an exciting adventure no matter which car challenge you try. Click on the images to see details!

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