Last week, I tried a new activity with my at-risk students. In the past, I have demonstrated the concepts behind Isaac Newton’s third law of motion using balloons. Students would build balloon rockets by attaching an inflated balloon to a straw, slipping the straw on a clothesline-like string and releasing the air. The force of the air escaping the balloon sends the balloon zipping down the string. While this little demo always proved to be fun, it was too brief and did not allow room for much creativity.
As a modification to this, I challenged my students to demonstrate their understanding of Newton’s laws of motion by building a car powered by a balloon. Prior to class, I had already gathered a variety of supplies- straws, cardboard, balloons, scissors, bottle lids, tape, old CDs and paper plates- and placed them in a supply box. I began the lesson by completing a simple Google Image search for balloon powered cars and projected the results on the front board. As a class we discussed design ideas and noted the materials necessary to complete the task. Students then broke into teams and began developing design ideas. During this process, there was an eagerness in the classroom. The children were excited to begin the creation process.
Once a team developed a clear plan and sketches of their ideas, they were allowed to begin the building process. They energetically dove into the supply box to gather supplies and cooperated throughout their car’s creation. I circulated the classroom monitoring progress and offering tips and guidance. Some groups struggled to create wheels that actually rotated, while others struggled to stop air from escaping their balloon prematurely. I encouraged my students to conduct multiple trial runs and to resist getting frustrated through the modification process. In the end, three out of the five groups in my class successfully build cars powered by balloons. The pride they felt was obvious as they cheered their car on down the school hallway. I know this was a memorable and fun experience for my at-risk population, and I will surely repeat this lesson again in years to come. This lesson is inexpensive, engaging and a perfect way to get students excited about the subject matter. It is a great way to incorporate inquiry and creativity into the science classroom.
This activity can be downloaded on both this site and Teachers Pay Teachers.