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Sorry, Here's another activity that all 8th grade teachers do in my school as part of a unit on motion. Students design roller coasters by cutting a foam pipe insulator in half. The pipe insulator is the track, and a marble becomes the car. The goal is to design a roller coaster with a loop and a curve. The car has to stop safely. This is a great way to teach Newton's Laws, and acceleration.
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The Museum of Science in Boston has a "design challenge" where kids get to design hand-held sleds made out of plastic, and different fabrics held on with binder clips. The friction is increased or decreased by the type of fabric that is used on the bottom of the sled. They can also put batteries in the sleds to add mass. After they've designed their sleds, the kids "race" to see who was the fastest or slowest, depending on what your specifications are. You could easily make sleds out of a variety of fabrics, styrofoam meat trays, and binder clips. A piece of smooth plywood set at an inclince could be your racetrack. Most of the materials could be saved for next year too. (I've also done a variation on the design-a-package-for-an-egg problem by having kids design a bike helmet that will protect their "skull" during an impact. I used a coconut in place of a skull, and I think that it is both a good science activity as well as a great reminder of why kids should wear their helmets...) Good Luck! Caren
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Apr 26, 2010