Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Do your kids like to tinker? Here is a fun STEM challenge which would be good for individual work or, perhaps, a summer camp STEM activity – design and build an air-powered car.
engineering challenge for kids - design and build an air-powered car

Project Set Up and Materials

Smarty and her GATE friends built these air-powered cars in their after school enrichment class led by the team from San Jose Children Discovery Museum. They were given the following materials
  • Plastic or cardboard platforms
  • Bottle caps with drilled holes and mini plastic wheels (Smarty used both on her car)
  • Dowels
  • Foam Pipe insulation cut into about 4-5 inches tubes
  • Large popsicle sticks
  • Duct tape
  • Low temp glue guns
  • Straws
  • Balloons
  • Paper clips
  • Plastic propellers
  • Rubber bands
Kids discussed first what kind of cars they can build with these materials. Smarty and many other kids opted for the car driven by a wound-up rubber band. Some of her friends built a balloon-powered car instead. I personally like balloon-powered car better, since it doesn’t require special parts.

Making a Balloon-Powered Car

1. Create axels and attach them to the bottom of your platform. The wheels should be able to rotate easily and be more or less aligned.
wheels-for-air-powered-car 2. Use a hot glue gun or duct tape to attach an insulation pipe “cabin” that will eventually house an engine. Make a cut in the pipe to accommodate a straw or a popsicle stick
Air-Powered-Car-Top 3. Attach a straw securely to a balloon with a masking tape. That connection should be airtight. Then attach a straw to an engine.
Balloon-Powered-Engine 4. Test your car:

Making A Propeller-Driven Car

Steps 1 and 2 are the same. In the step 3, you need to construct a winding mechanism. When I came over to pick up Smarty after the class, she was still struggling with it and needed some help from the instructor on that part.
Making-a-wound-up-propeller Step 4. Test your propeller-driven car. Smarty’s car actually works rather well!

Your Turn

STEM challenge for kids - desing and build an air-powered car Have you ever built an air-powered car with your kids? They make great DIY toys!

Gifts for Future Auto Engineers

More Engineering Ideas for Kids?

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Ticia said...

I need to challenge my kids to this again, it'd be fun to see what they come up with.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

What a great car! Emma loves to tinker, and we have discovered that sawing wood is a great way for her relax.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Hmmm...and we have that propeller, too.

jeannine said...

Love this! My kiddos would absolutely get into a challenge like this. We will be doing this soon.

shelah moss said...

I have made a lot of DIY cars over the years but never an air powered one. This is going on my to-do list!

Olivia said...

Hopefully, someone might see this though it's an old thread. I love this! Any idea where one could get these materials...like propeller, motor, wheels? I haven't done this type of project before.