Tag: Simple Machines

Balloon Cars!

General Topics: Kinetic Energy, Mechanics, Physics, Simple Machines
Grade Level: 2-3

In this activity we explored the process of how forces work and how a force in one direction can cause motion in the opposite direction (Newton’s third law). The exercise had the students learning how to make a car powered by a balloon to be blown up and released. This gives the car forward motion!

Each student was given the cardboard pieces to assemble together, followed by the pencil axle, and the wheels. While the cardboard pieces were already cut to size, the students still had to measure the car sides and cut in slots for their wheel axles. This taught them how to use a ruler and measure items in inches. When the wheels and body were complete, the balloon was added and students could race their balloon cars!

This class we learned:

  • Newton’s third law (every action has an opposite and equal reaction)
  • Using a ruler and the difference between meters and inches

Things to keep in mind for future activities: 

  • Originally we were hoping to add a motor to the car or another electronic component but with the time to make the car, there was not enough time for an additional electronic component. In the future possibly pre-assembling the car or splitting into two sessions would be best

Making Motors!

General Topics: Electromagnetic Energy, Electronics, Physics, Simple Machines
Grade Level: 2-3

In this activity we explored the process of how electromagnetism works and how electromagnetism is used to create motors! The exercise had the students learning how to make a very basic motor using a copper wire, magnets, and a battery passing current through the device. The students had to find the best height above the magnets to allow for wire movement!

Each student was first given the copper wire to coil up themselves. Once in a coil, the students used sandpaper to remove the coating on the wire (as it was galvanized).

The students were then given their cups, paper clips, and magnets and asked to assemble the body of their motors. The students were then given the alligator clips and battery to hook up their circuit. The paper clips were initially placed in a semi arbitrary distance from the magnet, but the actual distance of the paper clip from the magnet would vary and the students worked to find the ideal distance! Students worked to find what distance worked best to get their motors going. Once completed, their copper coils went spinning!

This class we learned:

  • What a magnetic field is
  • What an electromagnetic field is
  • How current running through a wire creates an electromagnetic field
  • How motors work
  • How magnets work

Things to keep in mind for future activities: 

  • Students had a bit of trouble coiling the wires. For this age group we may want to pre-coil them
  • Future designs of the paper cup motor should allow for easier movement of the paperclips to change the distance from the magnet


Motorized Car!

General Topics: Physics, Engineering, Mechanics, Simple Machines, Electric Energy, Circuits, Electronics, Basic Robotics
Grade Level: 6-8

In this activity, we made battery powered remote controlled cars.


  • During the first session, we explained the concepts behind circuitry and how we were applying it, and started assembling the H-bridge circuit we would use to control the car. This required an extended period of time because the circuitry has to be exact or else the car would not operate.
  • During the second session, we assembled the bodies of the cars, including assembling the axles out of pencils and straws, assembling the chassis out of cardboard, and attaching the laser-cut wheels.
  • During the final session we attached the motors and H-Bridges to the cars and tested them out.

What did we learned?

  • Simple Machines: Wheel and Axel;
  • Mechanics: Torque, Motion, Gears and Motors
  • Basic electronics: Its rules for how it works and why the electricity moves in a circuit.
  • For their cars to work, the circuitry and mechanical components had to be done and assembled in a specific way in order for it to work.

Things to keep in mind for future activities: 

  • Preparedness: kits labeled, with descriptions of the pieces
  • We learned that in order to keep the project moving we needed to break the activity into tangible lessons with fun things in between, like decorating the cars.
  • Redesign h-circuit to be more user friendly. The old design requires two buttons to be pressed with the same thumb but it should be changed to be pressed with one thumb