Pre-K through Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

Wacky Races

The second graders’ Wacky Car race challenge tests design, math, science, and problem-solving skills.
When second graders walked into their classrooms on a recent winter morning, they left their personas as eight year-old Fay students at the door to become Wacky Race car engineers! In preparation for a race through the Grand Canyon, each student was faced with the challenge of getting their broken-down car to the starting line at the top of a steep hill. Using shoeboxes, string, masking tape, plastic cups, wheels, straws, wooden skewers, and weights, each student had to design and build a car that would go up the hill but stop before going over the edge.
The project, helmed by Fay’s Director of Innovation David Dixon, was a multidisciplinary experience that introduced students to the basic tenets of the design process while also drawing on their math, science, and artistic skills. After discussing the details of the challenge, students tackled the practical task of building wheel and axle units using skewers, wheels, popsicle sticks, masking tape, and straws. This was followed by small group discussions with the second grade teachers which focused on how the students could get their car to the top of the hill without it being dragged over the edge into the canyon below. The majority of the morning was devoted to “making” time, an hour-long block during which the students could design and construct their car, test their design, and make adjustments.
There were a variety of kinks that could impair a car’s success. If the axle was too narrow, the wheels would rub against the sides of the car, causing friction and slowing down the vehicle. If the string connected to the pulley was too short, the car wouldn’t make it to the starting line. If students put too much weight in the plastic cup, they risked their car being pulled over the other side of the hill. As they designed, tested, and refined their cars, students were also honing their understanding of force, friction, and momentum as they experienced these scientific principles first-hand.
“The students were so intense and engaged,” recalls David. “There was a sense of excitement and great satisfaction when their cars worked because they had persevered through the challenges. It was a very rewarding experience.”
Aside from teaching students about design theory and Newtonian mechanics, the Wacky Race Car Challenge is also helping second graders build critical problem-solving skills that will serve them well in future challenges. “These students now know what it feels like to persevere through a problem and experience the deep sense of satisfaction that comes with it,” says David. “The grit, determination, and effort they have shown here is destined to spill over into other areas of learning.”