By Paran Quigley, Inly Middle School Science Teacher
When I first told my friends that our Inly Middle School students would be building and racing model cars instead of having a test on Newton’s Laws of Motion, they looked at me with a mixture of disbelief, sympathy, and genuine confusion. Even after several months of my stories involving indoor shoes, independent time, and the importance of storytelling in the classroom, they still couldn’t quite understand how such an endeavor would be logistically possible or educationally valuable.
It was with great pride that, a month or so after I first mentioned this idea to them, I showed them this video of our Inly Banana 500, which, to quote from the five-paragraph essay of one of our 7th graders is “quite possibly the most intense homemade car race featuring bananas that this school has ever seen.”
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Much to my joy (and my friends’ initial disbelief), our Middle School students took on this challenge with enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication. Their assignment was simple: use their knowledge of Newton’s Laws of Motion to design, build, and race model cars. They could choose their work partners, they had to use 100% re-used common household materials, and in the end they were to turn in a five-paragraph essay detailing just exactly why they made the design choices they made and how the model cars that they built illustrated terms, ideas, and laws that we had been studying in our Physical Science class.
See if you can spot the cars that had a particularly difficult time overcoming inertia at the starting line (Newton’s First Law of Motion in play, folks!). Note how many groups tried to use Newton’s Second Law of Motion (Force = Mass x Acceleration, as a reminder for those of us not currently in a field where physics equations are commonly referenced) to their advantage. See if you can tell which group’s car is a particularly good illustration of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) on your first watch-through. If you have trouble spotting it, track down your local, friendly Middle School student and ask him or her to explain what happened and why. After all, they’re clearly able to capture the intensity of race day far better than I can.