Students design a toy car racetrack that can move a toy car around the racetrack in 30 seconds or less using the force of magnetism.
1 Student Journal: Magnetic Racetrack (per student)
1 Permanent Marker (per group)
4 Small craft magnets (per group)
1 Toy car (per group)
2 Metal Washers (per group)
1 Poster board (per group)
1 Roll masking tape (per group)
Student Journal: Magnetic Racetrack
Get your engines ready! Today your students are going to the races as they build a toy car racetrack using magnetism. Students use the iterative process of engineering as they build and rebuild their racetrack. Some of your students may get frustrated if their plan doesn’t work the first time. Be sure to discuss with students how engineers don’t just design and build something one time. There is a process they go through of design, build, test, redesign, build, test… You may want to create a poster to demonstrate this cycle. Using this process students not only learn problem solving skills, but also determination and patience. Learn more about using “Engineering Solutions” in your classroom here.
One type of engineer that studies and uses magnetism is a mechanical engineer. Mechanical engineers research, design, develop, and test tools, engines, and all kinds of mechanical devices. Scientific Toy Company is looking for engineers to design a toy car racetrack that can move a toy car around the racetrack in 30 seconds or less using the force of magnetism.
Tell the students that they are going to be mechanical engineers for a day, designing and creating a way to move a toy car around a track using the force of magnetism. Students design and construct a toy car racetrack that uses magnetism to make the car move.
Criteria and Constraints
- The racetrack must be constructed from one piece of poster board.
- You may guide the car without actually touching it.
- The toy car must go around the track using magnetic force without the guiding magnet directly touching the car.
- The car must change directions three or more times while moving from one side of the poster board to the other.
- The car must move around the racetrack in 30 seconds or less.
- You may only use the materials provided.
Prompt the students to list the steps of their plan and design for the challenge in their Student Journal: Magnetic Racetrack before building the design. Make sure students identify any scientific tools or other materials/technology they will need.
- Students could tape a washer to the bottom of a car and hold a magnet below the poster board to guide the car through the course without touching the magnet to the car.
- Students should not be limited to this design.
- The racetrack design could be zigzag, spiral, or wavy in design.
Build, Test, and Refine
Monitor student groups to ensure that they are remaining within their design parameters. Once students have created their design, they should test their design and refine it as needed.
Share and Critique
Allow time for each group to present their solution to the design challenge. Students need to explain how their solution will solve the problem. Students must have sufficient evidence to support their design. Invite other students/groups to ask questions.
Possible questions include:
- How did you make your car move without touching it? We put magnetic materials on the car and guided it with a magnet in our hand.
- How did you make your car change directions? We put a magnet in the corner that would repel the magnet on the car so it would push the car over.
- Do you think your car could go over a hill? With enough magnetism, the car could be guided anywhere.
Teacher Rubric with Sample Student Responses
After all groups have finished their designs from the engineering solutions activity, pair up your students by mixed ability. Have groups choose one person to stay behind to defend their group’s design. Allow students time to look at each design closely and ask questions as needed. Student pairs then return to their seats and work together to complete a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting their design to one of the other groups’ designs.
Compare Sentence Stem:
________ is similar to________ in that both ________ .
Contrast Sentence Stem:
________ is different from________ in that ________ .
Emerging ELLs would benefit from being paired with a student that knows more English to facilitate filling out the Venn diagram and formulating questions. Emerging students may also draw pictures on their Venn diagrams to represent the similarities and differences.