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Race cars have been built for the past two years in Prairie Wind Middle School classes, as a hands-on project--with racing as the finale to the class.

Leading the way to higher learning in physics, science, engineering--with mini race cars

Perham,Minnesota 56573
Perham Focus
Leading the way to higher learning in physics, science, engineering--with mini race cars
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

The halls of the Perham Prairie Wind Middle School were transformed into a racetrack earlier this year.

The cars are powered by CO2 cartridges, and the students run them down the halls like a drag racetrack.

But the racing is only the finale of the educational project. Students also design and build the little contraptions--which are similar to the well-known Pinewood Derby cars created by Cub Scouts.

"It is really important to have hands-on projects," said Dean Salo, industrial technology instructor at the middle school. "It is especially meaningful if the students design, and then actually build the car."

This is the second year of the CO2 car project, which is a component of the "Project Lead the Way" curriculum that the school has adopted. "Lead the Way" is a pre-engineering curriculum, which specializes in introducing students to engineering-related studies.

"We take the engineering curriculum and put it back into a hands-on project," said Salo.

Creating the car starts with a sketched idea, which becomes a computer generated design drawing. A styrofoam prototype is created, and then the model is taken into the wood shop to produce the final race car.

So often, math and science is taught in a textbook manner, said Salo.

"If the kids know what X plus Y really is, it becomes a practical exercise," said Salo, who has taught in Perham since 1994. "Otherwise, the concepts can be too abstract."

Product testing, modification, and production are part of the learning experience--as well as physics and science basics like inertia, thrust, friction and velocity.

Students learn not only about building the cars for speed, but also for durability.

"You can make the cars fast, but if the construction is too light, they can break," Salo noted.

And finally, students learn about the esoteric side of design: The cars have to look cool, too. That is the consumer and marketing side of engineering and design. So, students vote on the car that looks best.