This project fits beautifully as part of our list of winter-themed STEM activities and can be used with all different ages/grade levels. Use balloons (decorated as reindeer) that are taped to a straw on a “zipline” for younger students, and use decorated “cars” (mousetrap, Lego, or otherwise) for older ones. Another idea to involve younger students is for the teacher to make several different cars and have the students race them. Use graphs and charts to express how far each car traveled; then analyze and discuss results as a class.
If using mousetrap cars, discuss the following questions with students, or alternatively, have them answer on paper or in essay form:
1. What types of friction affected the performance of the vehicle? Where were the points of friction most obvious?
2. What problems related to friction did you encounter and how did you solve them?
3. What kind/how many wheels did you use? Does wheel diameter play a role in the success of your car?
4. Discuss the effect of the length of the lever arm in the pulling force of your vehicle.
5. How is the balance of a wheel around its center related to the vehicle’s performance?
6. How does the distribution of weight of the vehicle affect the traction of the
7. Discuss the major problems encountered in the performance of your vehicle and what
did you did/would do to solve them.