TIPP CITY — For several weeks now, the members of Tippecanoe Middle School’s STEM Club have been perfecting their drag racing technique.
If that doesn’t sound especially scientific, think again. The sixth, seventh and eighth grade students have been learning about basic physics using toy cars provided by the Hess Toy Truck company. The club received of a fleet of motorized toy trucks and cars, as well as an eight week curriculum, from the company free of charge.
“We’re trying to test the speed and momentum,” middle schooler Leo Perez said. The students split into teams for a series of time trials followed by head-to-head races to see whose car would be first over the finish line.
While each team of students used identical toy cars, Perez explained that there are many reasons why one car might finish faster than another.
“Even small crumbs on the floor could affect how the car runs,” he said.
Advisor Dale Bonifas asked students to reflect on those variables after the racing ended Thursday afternoon. Students suggested that little things, like how they wound the pullback motors, the way they aimed the cars and whether or not they had wiped off the wheels, could make a big difference.
“It’s an eight week curriculum where we work with friction, we work with average speed, acceleration and velocity,” he said. “It’s a lot of basic science stuff, but we try to make it a little more fun.”
This eight week drag racing curriculum combines play with learning and is perfect for an after school group, Bonifas said. He also teaches STEM classes at the middle school, where they work on bigger projects that need more time. One of his classes is coming up with ways to test fabrics for spacesuits that could be worn on Mars, he said.
The project started off with students testing different racing surfaces and learning about some of the concepts involved in the project. This week, students finally got to race their cars and next week they’ll start work on making ramps to jumps the cars off of.
“The goal would be to see what is the farthest distance they could get their cars to jump. We’ll talk about math and angles,” he said.
The first few weeks of the project didn’t leave much room for creativity, Bonifas said, but once students start designing their own ramps, it will encourage them to think a little more inventively.
“It will allow them to be more creative and see the different options they have to create the jumps that they want,” he said.
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