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What Makes a Balloon Car Work? Eighth grade science students learn physics, engineering, resilience and problem-solving

Country School eighth grade students engineered, built and tested small, self-propelled vehicles as part of a yearlong exploration of the basic concepts of chemistry and physics.
“Using larger wheels in the back of the car and smaller wheels in the front, gave me a lot more power and directional speed than my first design,” said eighth-grader Sabina Cherry, of Westport.

“The project really puts their understanding of Newton’s laws of motion, forces and friction to the test,” says Upper School Science Teacher Sanj Maliakal. “While a successful design must take these concepts into consideration, trial and error and the design process are equally as important. Adjustments always need to be made, but sometimes it’s difficult to figure out which ones will have the most impact. That’s where testing trials come in.” 

Throughout the process, students’ resilience is put to the test as they exercise creativity to solve the various problems they encounter. 

This hands-on project is as creative as it is inquiry-based. The cars themselves are made using recycled materials such as cardboard, bottle caps and old CDs, and the students assemble them using power drills, hot glue and duct tape.

“The cars all look different, are made differently and perform differently. We record all of the data and then the students can determine what worked and why. In some cases, they are also faced with figuring out what didn’t work and why,” said Mr. Maliakal.

“Projects such as this are a welcome departure from a more traditional, didactical approach to teaching. It affords students the opportunity of a real-world application of the concepts and particularly appeals to our more kinesthetically inclined learners,” said Mr. Maliakal.
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