Students build cars powered by mousetraps

Eighth grader Nicole M. looking over her mousetrap car photo provided

Byram — Two weeks before the end of the school year, eighth grade students at Byram Intermediate School participated in an interdisciplinary unit where they built and raced cars powered by a simple mousetrap. This unit was organized by the eighth grade science and math teachers and generously funded by a grant from the Byram Education Foundation.
The mousetrap car is propelled by the potential energy in the tightly wound spring of the mousetrap, which moves the lever arm that pulls a string that is wrapped around the drive axle of the mousetrap car. As the lever pulls the string, the axle turns and the string unwinds until all the string has been pulled out. Then the end of the string that was wrapped around the axle should release. The mousetrap car should then coast for a distance because of the kinetic energy in the wheels until friction slows the car to stop.
Students used all aspects of STEM to create their mousetrap cars. Science was used in the understanding of the forces, energy, and motions within the car. Students used technology to research previous designs of mousetrap cars, how the cars work, and how to improve their cars. Students also found problems with the function of their cars and engineered solutions. Math was used when the students calculated the speed of their car, the distance it traveled, and the mechanical advantage their mousetrap car had.
After a day of building and researching, each team raced their cars for distance. The winning car traveled over 90 feet down the hallway.
Overall, this was a great experience for Byram’s eighth graders. One eighth grade student said, “I have learned how to be persistent and persevere through challenges, and I’ve become a better learner because of this activity. I am excited for tomorrow because I want to make changes to my car and do my best to beat the new challenge!”