Students apply Newton's Law to race cars

Stuart Rawlings wanted his seventh-grade vocational technology class to remember Newton's laws of physics so he gave them each four rubber bands and a block of wood.

"The primary job of this class is to get them thinking about what they're doing," Rawlings said. "It's not just about memorizing the laws of Newton."

The students used the wood and rubber bands to make and launch cars to demonstrate the laws governing motion, force and reaction.

Thursday, they had a competition to see which car went the farthest.

"I turned it into a competition," Rawlings said. "Now we can start being innovative and looking at how we can get it to go the farthest it can go."

The record was set earlier this year in March by Mike Fassett and Enrique Lopez who launched their car just under 12 1/2 feet.

The cars work as tension is applied by stretching rubber bands across screws in the block of wood. When the bands are cut, the car is propelled forward, like a sling shot.

Students experimented with size, weight and shape to increase distance.

"I learned how to work with different materials," said Jaime Bourns, 13. "I had two cars and I made them out of plywood and pine wood."

Her final launch was just under 5 feet.

Jeremiah Schenzel, 13, learned that circles do not travel far by watching his classmates' failed designs.

"I learned that the shape of a car is going to affect how far and how fast it goes," Jeremiah said. "Weight also makes it go farther and faster."

His traveled 5 feet'three 3 inches.

Rawlings said this is the kind of learning he wants his students to experience.

"Kids get to explore so many different possibilities as far as the variables that act on the car," he said. "They become very active learners."

This is the first year Rawlings has used the activity but he said it will be a part of his curriculum in the future.

"Newton's laws really come to life for them," he said. "I'll use this one again and again."

Jaime said this approach will help bring Newton's laws to mind.

"His laws were kind of complicated," she said. "These cars were a way to help me remember them."

Rawlings said the true test will be next year's TerraNova results. He said he hopes the students will be able to apply the concepts on the exam.

Jeremiah said the hands-on approach is more effective than learning strictly from the textbook.

"I think you need to touch everything," he said. "You need to figure out how it works."

Rawlings has been a teacher for 15 years and said what the students are learning in his class will design the shape of the future.

"These are the engineering skills that we need to keep this country going," he said. "That's our main goal as educators."


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