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This is a good activity for the beginning of school. I use this activity as an introduction to kinematics. Students must determine what data is required to measure the speed of their racer. Students discover that they already know quite a few physics principles. The rocket racer is also a good demonstration for Newton's Third Law of Motion.
- To construct a rocket-propelled "car"
- To experimentally describe the motion of the "car"
- 4 straight pins
- Styrofoam meat tray
- masking tape
- flexible straw
- small round party balloon
- meter stick
- Distribute materials.
- Students should design their racer and then trace their designs onto the Styrofoam tray.
- Students can either use scissors to cut out their design or snap out the parts from the tray. If a pen is pressed deeply into the tray to outline the parts, the pieces should snap out.
- Encourage students to cut out small "hubcaps" for each side of their wheels to improve performance.
- Stretch the balloon by blowing it and letting the air out. Tape the balloon to the short end of a flexible straw. Tape the straw to the body of your "car."
- Push pins through the hubcaps into your wheels and then into the edges of the body of your "car."
- Construct a track on the floor marked off in 10 cm increments.
- Blow up the balloon through the straw. Squeeze the end of the straw.
- Place the racer on the track on the floor.
- Let go of the balloon to start the racer.
I follow this activity with discussion. Students are asked what data needs to be collected to determine the speed and the acceleration of their "cars." We also discuss the meaning of these terms. If time permits, repeat the activity, allowing students to collect data to determine the speed of their "cars."
This activity is based upon Rocket Racer, an activity included in NASA's ROCKETS: A Teacher's Guide with Activities in Science, Mathematics, and Technology, publication number EG-1996-09-108-HQ. For information about this and other NASA publications, visit Space Link. NASA educational products can be downloaded as ".pdf" files from this site.