Monday, May 20, 2013

Learning About Energy -- Spool Racing!

I know many of you are already on summer break or are winding down with your last week, but here in southeastern Wisconsin we still have three weeks of school left.   We are out on June 6th and staff goes back at the end of August.  The kids don't report until after September 1st because in Wisconsin it is a law that school can't start until after September first....Isn't that interesting?  Personally, I would prefer an earlier start and an earlier finish, but I really can't complain!

One of my favorite units to teach in science is the unit on energy and I always save this unit until the end of the year when we need something FUN to ENGAGE us.  (You know what I'm talking about, right?)  We have been studying potential and kinetic energy and I found this very cool lesson from Zoom on PBS (you remember that show from when you were a kid, don't you???).  You can find the directions here and a video from YouTube to show your students how to build the spool racers here.  (This may also lead to an interesting discussion about what video looked like before HD media!)

Using wooden spools, toothpicks, a rubber band, tape, and a pencil, students worked in pairs to build their spool racer to use for racing.  (Also a great lesson for following directions!)

After building the spool racers, it was RACE TIME! 

After the racing was over, we had a great discussion about:

  • Where in the spool was the potential energy being built up?
  • How was the kinetic energy shown?
  • What modifications could be made to the spool racer to increase the potential energy and thus, the kinetic energy?
  • Why did some cars spin in circles?
  • What other modifications could be made to the spool racer to increase the energy?
  • What role did factors like carpeting (and friction) play in the race?
  • Did forces like pushing help?

When the race and discussions were over, we packed up our supplies in these baggies and they are ready to go for next year!

Needless to say, the students were OVERLY engaged with this activity and it was a fun way to test out energy.  I have one more potential and kinetic energy activity that we will be doing this week (building rollercoasters) so check back soon for that.  So much FUN and so EASY!

Wishing you an amazing week!


  1. Good luck finishing up in the next three weeks! We get out June 20th, here in CT, and start at the end of August. We had some crazy hurricanes and snow storms this year that we are making the days up for! Have a great week!
    Pinkadots Elementary

  2. Spool racing? How cool is that?!? What are the washers in the bag used for? Thanks for sharing:)
    Fourth Grade Flipper

  3. Love, love, love it! I bet you and your kids had a ball. :)
    Brandee @ Creating Lifelong Learners

  4. I thought Michigan was the only one with the crazy Labor Day law. Funny thing, once sports start, vacations are done! June 11 is my last day. Looks like they had fun with the spool racers. I used to do land yacht races with Legos and a fan. Was a favorite science wrap up. The only real science thing I miss since we departmentalized.
    Learning in Bliss

  5. What a fun idea! And I must admit that I am coveting your rug from afar.....Lisa


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