“On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!”

3rd graders end the year by testing out gravity racers they designed and built themselves.

Twenty teams of 3rd graders spent the month of May designing and building gravity racers. Working in the makerspace created out of the common area, students learned how to safely use handsaws and glue guns as they applied their understanding of simple machines and gravitational force. The junior engineers found ways to use everything from plastic baskets to wood disks to PVC pipe to create their racers. On a cloudy June morning, they finally had a chance to test out their designs.

A hilly stretch of asphalt behind Groome served as the raceway, complete with checkered flags and a finish line. Library assistant Caity stood ready to staff the popcorn concession booth. Then it was time for gravity racers to arrive, some with stuffed animals serving as drivers, complete with cozy blankets. All 20 teams were assigned spots in the tournament bracket. After a welcome from Sarah Tiamiyu, 3y teacher and announcer for the day, the first two racers were called to the front. The 3rd graders chanted, “Send ’em up! Send ’em up! Send ’em up to the track!”

Design strengths and challenges soon became evident. Hot glue seemed to be a more enduring adhesive than tape. Axles that were slightly off-kilter soon veered their racers off the track. Some teams saw firsthand how strong a force friction can be, as their racers stood at a standstill. Each design flaw was carefully observed by a group of Kz students in the audience, scoring each racer on their whiteboards with either a number or a drawing of a face. Within a matter of minutes, the first round of the tournament had concluded.

The crowd was growing now, with PK students joining in on the fun. The energy level grew as some teams were knocked out of the competition and others forged ahead, with occasional gentle reminders from Sam Francis, the Lower School science teacher: “We are relying on the force of gravity, not the force of pushing.”

After a few more rounds of races, it came down to Team #5 vs. Team #7. Both had performed well throughout the morning, and both teams had legions of vocal fans. As the gravity racers careened toward the finish line, #5 pulled ahead with a decisive victory.

Great sportsmanship was on display, as the second-place Team #7 came over to congratulate their victorious classmates. To honor the grace with which all of the 3rd graders withstood defeat, the crowd erupted into a chant, “3rd grade rocks! 3rd grade rocks!”

Sarah interviewed the winning team, asking why they thought their design ended up being the most successful. “I think it was because we put lots of rocks in it,” theorized one team member. “Hey, that makes us ‘rock’ stars!” added his teammate.

The teachers had a special surprise for the young engineers: They could each take home a checkered flag as a reminder of their lessons in gravity, wheels, axles, and sportsmanship.

NOTE: This project was funded through a Summer 2015 Faculty Venture Grant.

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