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Page history last edited by Bethany Smith 14 years, 10 months ago

Mousetrap Car Physics



What do you know about Physics?  Newton?  Simple Machines?

How do car’s work?  How do wheels work?

Show NASCAR video clip

Who likes NASCAR or fast cars?  How do you make a car go faster? If you wanted to design a car how would you start?

Discuss how vehicles work in general as simple machines. 

What propels a vehicle? What would propel a moustrap car?

How do wheels and axels work?  Do they have to be used in unison? Why?


Learning Objectives

Students will gain an understanding of how simple machines and Newton’s laws affect each other as well as the design and redesign process based on these factors.




Students will design basic moustrap cars, then redesign them based on data collected. This is a week long project, based on 1 1/2 hour classes each day (however, it could be done with 1 hour class lengths).


Day 1
Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

Simple Machines

& Energy Types

  Acceleration & Velocity Friction  
•    Overview of how a mousetrap car works
•    Break into teams
•    Equipment available
•    Start Building car
•    Continue building car
•    Video trials
•    Import Video
•    Logger Pro Data Analysis
•    Decisions based on data

•    Redesign car based

on data collected using Scientific Method

•    Finish redesign
•    Final race


Equipment Needed (per car):

•    6 Balloons

•    1 Mousetrap

•    Fishing line

•    4 CDs

•    2 Ball point pens (Bic preferred)

•    4 Soda Can Tabs

•    4 Screw Eyes (#12)

•    Duct Tape


•    Wood Slats

•    Balsa Wood

•    Foam board

•    Dowel Rod



Design Activity

Break the students into groups of 2 or 3.  Groups will need a Team Name. 

Pass out supplies to student teams.  Try to have them build the cars without any model or instruction beyond the basics.  Have pre-built a mousetrap car to illustrate certain issues if need be. The PowerPoint used is to provide close up images of the building process. 




I based the majority of my building on Instructables Mouse Trap Car Project.  I liked how they used typical household materials, and I did not need to buy kits. I highly reccomend that instructors build one beforehand to see where issues creep up.


Data Collection & Video Analysis


Vernier LoggerPro will be utilized for data collection.  Importing the raw video will allow students to get multiple data points to work with for both acceleration and velocity.  This is a great way for students to see multiple graphs from the same data set and emphasizes the analysis of data rather than the collection of it.

Video & Logger Pro Guide


Have students race their cars against each other, look for distance and time verification.  Keep a Distance & Time Log to track Team progress.


Each team needs to video their car race.  Ensure that the field of vision includes both the stop & start points (VERY important for data analysis).  Use a tripod to keep the camera steady & place a meter stick in the background. Cars should travel from LEFT to RIGHT, based on positive X/Y Coordinate plane.


•    Import Video – Using Flip Camera, drag files from camera and drop on desktop

•    Show Basketball Toss example video

•    Import Video into Vernier Logger Pro: (See Video in Logger Pro)

•    Display Video Analysis Toolbar

•    Set Scale

•    Mark origin of object based on meter stick in background

•    Add point for every 3 frames of video


Data Based Decision Making

What do the graphs tell us?

•    Acceleration (The rate at which velocity changes)

•    Speed (Speed = Distance/Time; ie. How fast?)

•    Distance

•    Time

•    Velocity (ie How Fast? & In what direction?)

Identify changes or oddities in the Velocity Graph.  What was occurring on the video during these changes?  What design changes can you make to your car to improve  Velocity?

Use the Data Analysis Actvity worksheet to track student progress


Redesign Activity


The second half of the Moustrap Powerpoint illustrates some redesign principles if your students need inspiration.

Use the Scientific Method to conduct experiments to improve your car based on the Data from Logger Pro.

1.    Recognize a problem

2.    Hypothesis

3.    Predict the consequences of the hypothesis

4.    Perform experiments to test predictions

5.    Conclusion



Final Race


I think the best part of the process was holding a final race and having an awards ceremony!





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