Fayette physics students create mousetrap-powered vehicles 10.8

Written by David Green.

Pretty good on mileage, but not too dependable in the long run.

That’s what Fayette High School physics students might have concluded from a project last week.mousetrap.measure.jpg

The assignment was a classic one: Transform the energy stored in the cocked spring of a mousetrap into motion. More specifically, create a device that travels as far as possible using that stored energy.

The information sheet students used points out that all three of Newton’s laws of motion are involved in the project.

Students were allowed to spend no more than $5 for materials, excluding the mousetrap. Anything manufactured to serve as a wheel was forbidden, and CD/DVD discs were also not allowed—a violation by one team.

Each entry was given three runs on the hallway floor and grades were determined by the best of the three.

The rules forbid consulting an outside source for ideas, and that proved frustrating for the class, said teacher Kristina Newman.

“It is hard for kids not to go to the internet for answers right away,” she said. “They are so accustomed to doing that. Looking at the problem and working through failures is an important part of the engineering process and it is also what I really want my students to learn.”

She was encouraged to hear students talk about their dissatisfaction and how they could have improved on their design.mousetrap.adjust.jpg

“To me, just hearing them say that let me know that they were successful,” Ms. Newman said. “They are already showing me a desire to improve and I hope this desire continues to grow. I can’t wait for them to start the next project.

The class will be challenged with more elaborate contraptions through the school year and she expects to see improvements in students’ problem-solving abilities.

“As they get more practice, I hope they come out with a real sense of how to build on what they learn through a trial-and-error process and to expect more from themselves and not to go for the easy answer.”

That mousetrap spring could help launch a career in engineering.

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