Several months ago I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development workshop at the John Deere facility located in the University of Illinois Research Park. It had been arranged for teachers in the Champaign but, due to my many years as a substitute in that district, the person planning it had asked me if I wanted to participate. I was glad to do so, not only because I really enjoy going to workshops that help me improve as a teacher, but also because I had been looking for an opportunity to reconnect with many of the teachers who had mentored me during those years of moving from classroom to classroom and school to school.
The workshop was called “A Word in Motion” and was presented by SAE International, an organisation dedicated to promoting advances in mobility engineering. They host a number of competitions, one of which is the JetToy Challenge. While my students are not participating in the competition, I was able to get a kit for constructing JetToys as part of my participation in this workshop and am using it with my class as we learn about force and motion.
The JetToy is a balloon-powered car made of recycled or repurposed materials. The chassis of the car (the body) is printed on recycled card stock paper. The wheels are the platforms of push-up ice cream novelty. The axle is the stick from the push-up and the hub is a straw. The entire assembly is held together with masking tape. The engine is a balloon attached to a short hose with a rubber band. (The hose is one of the few parts that is neither recycled nor repurposed.)
We are designing and building the cars one step at a time. We assembled the wheel-and-axle components yesterday, then built the chassis and attached the wheels today. The students were able to test the cars so far by rolling it across their desks or the floor to see if they would travel straight. If they didn’t, the students were able to remove the wheels and reattach them, attempting to align the car as well as possible. We will be attaching the balloon motors on Tuesday (after the long Memorial Day weekend) and start testing them out next week.
The students are working in design teams of four, which I allowed them to select. Each team has to work together on every step of the project. When the JetToy cars are all completed, we will be racing them in the gym to see which goes the fastest and which goes the furthest. Then we will wrap up our force and motion unit by examining what forces were in play as the cars were in motion and determining what variables affect which aspects of the cars’ movement.