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Lemont Students Create Wind-Powered Cars

Seventh-graders at Old Quarry Middle School built and raced cars as part of a study of Newton’s Laws of Motion.

Students at Old Quarry Middle School got a hands-on science lesson recently, as Laura Rickerson’s seventh-graders competed for the championship in the school’s balloon racer finals.

The project was the culmination of a study of motion and forces, focusing on Newton’s laws of motion:  

  1. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
  2. The relationship between an object's mass m, its acceleration a, and the applied force F is F = ma. Acceleration and force are vectors (as indicated by their symbols being displayed in slant bold font); in this law the direction of the force vector is the same as the direction of the acceleration vector.
  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Each group of students worked together on the design of their balloon racers and brought in materials with which to build the crafts from common household items. The only materials supplied in class were two balloons and a drinking straw. Students assembled their cars in class, but were allowed to paint their cars and drill holes in the wheels at home.

Rickerson provided the students with the following rules for competing:

  • The car must be powered by one inflated balloon, supplied in class.
  • You can build the car out of anything.
  • It must have at least three wheels. Wheels are defined as anything that is round and spins.
  • The wheels cannot be wheels from a toy car. They must be made out of something that was not originally meant to be used as wheels.
  • The car may not leave the ground and should travel in a reasonably straight line.
  • The car must be capable of moving at least three meters. The farther it moves the more points you will earn.
  • The car will need to be ready when your turn is called on race day.

In her instructions to students, Rickerson wrote, “Newton's three laws seem to work perfectly on the chalkboard, but in real life, we find that surfaces are seldom frictionless and that few moving objects are truly predictable. This is because outside forces interfere with Newton's perfect situations."

The instructions continued, "Balloon racers rely on Newton's third law of motion. As the air rushes backward out of the balloon, it pushes the car forward in the opposite direction with an equal force. Your job is to make the most of this force. While building balloon racers, we will discover how difficult it can be to make something work reliably.”

Laura Swalec, whose son was a finalist in the balloon racer competition, praised Rickerson for her teaching style.

“Mrs. Rickerson is an amazing teacher,” Swalec said in an email to Patch. “Her enthusiasm for education and her engaging style has made her a favorite of students, parents and staff. She incites intellectual curiosity and believes in active learning. She has been a vital part of Old Quarry for 15 years.”

Do you know a teacher who is making a difference in Lemont-Bromberek School District? Tell us in the comments or email Guest Editor Linda Ozbolt at lindaozbolt.patch@gmail.com.

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Justin Bronzell November 06, 2012 at 07:27 PM
I had to make such a car in her class two years ago. It bent the rules a bit by using two half inflated balloons, but such a setup was necessary as all the car was was three wheels on a toothpick, no chassis. It was quite successful.
Linda Ozbolt November 06, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Hey, Justin - I'm wondering why you chose to use two half-inflated balloons to power the car. Did it help stabilize the vehicle? If you have a picture of your creation, please share it with us by posting it to this story or emailing it to lindaozbolt.patch@gmail.com. Thanks for your comment!

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