SALMON, ID – High school science teacher Jen Vogel is always looking for creative ways to end a learning module in her classroom. Inspired by a STEM professional development workshop she attended at the Salmon Public Library last fall, Vogel invited her students at the Upper Carmen Charter High School to build mousetrap-powered race cars.
Using the mousetrap as a base, the students designed frames, wheels and axles for their vehicles. For these, they made use of everyday materials, such as styrofoam, paper, barbecue skewers, jar lids and old CDs. Each student also had the opportunity to manufacture two of their own wheels using the Library’s 3D printer.
The most important step was harnessing the potential energy of the mousetrap, which students achieved by winding a string around the car’s back axle and then attaching the free end to the spring-loaded arm of the trap. When the trap snaps, the string unwinds, spinning the axle and making the car go, go, go!
The class hosted their official mousetrap car race on Wednesday, Jan. 10, experimenting with two different racing surfaces, tabletop and carpet. Staff and Americorps VISTA volunteers from the Library joined in on the fun, and helped to facilitate a discussion on how different designs impacted the movement of the vehicles.
The students had a great time building and racing their cars, calling the experience a nice “break” from regular school activities. But while it may have felt like a break, the students were learning all along, using applications from physics and trigonometry to engineer their race cars. Vogel and her students look forward to working with the Library on their next hands-on project, part of their upcoming unit on circuits: electronic textiles!