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Take a Ride on the Wild Side

Introduce young students to basic physics principles with this exciting race car activity.

  • Grade 2
    Grade 3
    Grade 4
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Read "Sheep in a Jeep" by Nancy Shaw or "Roller Coaster" by Marla Frazee and ask students to think about some of the forces introduced in these books.
    2. Encourage students to think about what happens to them when they are riding in a car that stops suddenly or goes around a sharp turn. What happens if the car takes a sharp right turn? What happens when it takes a sharp left turn? What forces have they noticed when riding in a wagon or on a bike? What difference is there in how they pedal going uphill as compared to a flat surface? What happens when they go downhill? Have they ever gone down a steep hill on a sled? How is that different from going down a small hill?
    3. Inform students they are going to have an opportunity to create their own mini race cars and use them to experiment with these forces. Does anyone know what the rod that connects the wheels on a wagon or car is called? Introduce students to the word "axle".
    4. Provide each student with a small cardboard box or ask them to bring one from home. Something the size of a single serving cereal box will work well. Distribute white paper and Crayola® Colored Pencils or Crayola® Ultra-clean Markers and provide time for students to create brightly colored papers for the outside of their cars. Show them how their boxes will become cars if set horizontally on a flat surface. Have students each cut a large hole in the top of their cars so a passenger can sit in it. Demonstrate how to use a paper punch to create two holes on each side of the box near the bottom edge for their axles to pass through. It is important to punch holes through the cardboard before covering the boxes with paper.
    5. Provide time for students to cover their cars with their colored papers using clear tape and/or a Crayola® Glue Stick as an adhesive. Demonstrate how to use two pencils (or two short pieces of doweling) as axles by gently poking the pencils through the outer paper where it covers the pre-punched holes. Invite them to slide four recycled spools or wooden craft wheels onto the axles adding a small ball of Crayola® Model Magic to the ends of the axles to keep the wheels from falling off. Model Magic that is fresh from the pack will stick to itself. Dried pieces can be glued together.
    6. Now the cars are ready to roll! Working in pairs, show students how to set up two simple ramps, one steeper than the other. This can be done using pieces of heavy cardboard and a few books set on the classroom floor. Invite students to roll their cars down the ramps individually and as a "racing" pair. Does the length of a ramp or its steepness affect how far a car rolls? What difference does it make if a car is simply set on the ramp or gently pushed? Invite students to experiment and discuss their observations.
  • Standards

    LA: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher led) with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight.

    MATH: Describe several measurable attributes of a single object.

    MATH: Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of”/“less of” the attribute, and describe the difference.

    SCI: Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.

    SCI: Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.

    VA: Brainstorm multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.

    VA: Make art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.

  • Adaptations

    For additional physics experiments, fasten a short piece of string to the front of the car and put a "passenger" inside. This can be a small block of wood, a recycled spool, or even a small animal figure created from Crayola® Model Magic. Have students experiment with various forces. What happens to the passenger when the car is suddenly pulled forward? What happens if the car is given a push from behind and then "crashes" suddenly into an obstacle?

    Measure and compare the heights and lengths of ramps and record data regarding the various distances cars travel depending upon the ramps used.

    Research information in appropriate grade level texts regarding forces and motion. Discuss findings with classmates.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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