• Physics in fifth grade

    Claymont Elementary students learn about potential and kinetic energy


    Q: What do PVC piping, poster tubes, CDs, balloons, duct tape, a perch from a bird cage, and pencils have in common?

    A: All were used by Claymont Elementary fifth graders to construct their own vehicles, then race them across the gymnasium floor in the Energy Derby to see which one went farthest.


    Fifth grade students in the Gifted program at Claymont Elementary learned about physics – specifically potential and kinetic energy – this winter when they studied Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and gravity.  Using what they learned about kinetic energy, students were instructed to build a vehicle that would move across the gym floor without being pushed.  The goal was to build the vehicle that would travel the farthest by transferring the highest percentage of potential energy into kinetic energy.   


    There were some rules.  No construction kits (such as Legos or Knex) could be used, nor could any motorized system.  Students could use any other materials, however, including wheels from such items as rollerblades, skateboards, or toys (or, in some cases, compact disks or LP records).  Vehicles were required to be no wider than 15 inches and no longer than 25 inches.   In addition to the vehicle itself, each student was required to submit two technical drawings, a materials list, and a written explanation of the vehicle’s construction.   While the Energy Derby has been held in previous years for fifth grade students, this was the first year that a launching ramp was not used, leaving the students to incorporate the vehicles’ initial method of propulsion into their designs.


    While the real objective of the project was to get students thinking, the distances travelled were indeed measured.   Congratulations to the following students, whose cars travelled the furthest distances.


    Large cars - Sam Beck, 48.5 feet

    Medium cars - Evan Ciecko, 50+ feet

    Small cars - Ben Murray, 36 feet


    Congratulations to all of the participants!