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  • Mechanical Engineering - Ramp Rollers
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  1. We used homemade kits with beams, axles, different types of wheels, and bushings.  We tested the cars in the hallway so they had enough room to roll.  Students had trouble only changing one aspect of their car during their redesign.  Some students increased the friction in their cars when they increased the weight so they got the idea that the heavier cars would go slower.  At the end of the semester many of the kids said that this was their favorite activity.

  2. For this lesson, Shir and I tried to explain to the students the concepts of energy and friction (and force). Once we explained these and linked friction to the types of wheels they could use, some students got really caught up on that. They were trying to get their car to be the best and go the furthest (which was the objective of the activity) but this caused them to spend most of their time on only that part. One thing that tripped us up was trying to explain whether or not the weight of the car affected the speed of the car. Since this depends on the situation, we tried to explain it in the most simple way possible, there needs to be enough weight so that there is friction so the wheels spin, but if there is too much it would slow the car down. It's hard to have too much weight on a LEGO car to cause it to slow down, though. Each group discussed what they did and what they could have done differently when all of the cars were tested. The testing time at the end of class is a great time for the teacher to get involved and share what they could have done differently or why something went wrong.

  3. Ms. Burn's 4th grade class, Healey school, Fall 2012

    We did this activity in the class with hopes of focusing on the idea of changing only one variable at a time and recording the changes that happened. We gave each group different types of wheels/lego pieces and a worksheet where they can fill in the material they were focusing on and how they're changing it in each trial. We then asked the students to think about how the one change they were made resulted in better or worse performance.

    Unfortunately, the kids did not understand the goal. Many of them wanted to start over or change many things in their ramp rollers after each trial. They were also not keen to recording the results on the worksheet and it was probably more of a nuisance to them. However, they were excited about the idea of making their ramp rollers better every time and most groups had many iterations. This is definitely a good activity to get students excited about the idea of trial and error and multiple iterations (and perhaps the idea of independent variables and worksheets is more suited for older students).