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Fourth Graders Build Spool Car Racers

Two girls workinig with project on hallway floorWhere does energy come from and where does it go? 

Fourth graders in Jen Hill’s class at Somers Intermediate School investigated potential energy and motion. 

Students have been learning about kinetic energy, potential energy and elastic energy in this science unit. They designed and tested out Spool Cars, homemade wind-up toys, to put what they’ve learned into action.

Hill wanted students to investigate how the rubber band acts like a battery. “A battery operates by transferring energy,” Hill said. “We are transferring our potential energy to the rubber band and creating elastic energy.”

Three kids working on projectUsing rubber bands, wooden spools, pencils, tape and a plastic stirrer, students explored how a rubber band’s potential energy can power their Spool Car racers. Students created their car designs by securing a rubber band inside the spool hole on one end and tying it around a pencil on the other end. When they spun the pencil, students saw potential energy power their racers.

Students tested out their racers on level surfaces - tables, bare floors and areas covered by rugs. They experimented with the correct amount of spinning necessary to power the Spool Cars. 

“The spinning rubber band attached to the eraser creates the motion when you let go,” said Jianah Rosa. Rosa said spinning the rubber band less would power her car but determined that spinning it more like 30 times did the trick.

“The rubber band is like a battery,” added Conor Gilbert. “You can charge it, but you can also over charge it by spinning too much.”

three students and a teacher Hill’s class recently completed a Car and Ramp experiment and explored potential and kinetic energy, friction, and momentum using ramps at various inclines to move their cars. They compared the similarities and differences between the two experiments.