Middle Schoolers Have a Need for Speed

Middle Schoolers Have a Need for Speed

With students split between in-person and virtual learning this year, teachers looked for novel ways to structure classes and to incorporate experiential learning and year-end projects rather than tests and essays.

For eighth grade students in the Middle School, this meant an especially fun conclusion to the year in their physics classes.

All semester, students have been studying and then building dragster race cars powered by carbon dioxide canisters. They delved into velocity, aerodynamics, and friction. They carved out their vehicles from wood, affixed wheels, and painted them elaborately.

And, in December, there was only one thing left to do: race.

Over two days, the Middle School cafeteria was converted into a drag racing speedway. Lunch tables lined each side of the two-lane track, with students sitting and cheering.

Teachers launched the cars from a metal platform, cracking open the CO2 containers, which then rocketed the cars across the wooden floor. In-person students brought their own cars, while virtual students sent theirs in. A large bracket taped to the wall was updated after each race, with winners advancing.

On the final day of racing, the first race of the day started rough. The cars were affixed to strings, which guide them straight down the course. But a string came loose, and a car tumbled sideways, spinning out of control.

But after that, the races went smoothly. All told, they did some 400 races over the two days.

In one of the day’s closest races, a red, white, and blue car fell behind early but had a sudden burst at the end to win. The car’s owner filmed the results with his iPad. He celebrated just a moment, then took his car to the side for measurements. He would have to document the results as part of his final report. This was a science project, after all.