Sara Swanson

Race Cars in the Halls of the Middle School Make STEM Education Hands-On for Students

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Mrs. Karapas Block 2 Science Class with their CO2 Powered Dragsters.

Mrs. Karapas’ Block 2 Science Class with their CO2 Powered Dragsters.

Dragsters rocketed down the halls of the Manchester Middle School to squeals of joy on Thursday and Friday as well as the cheers of the 5th graders who had designed and built them over the last two weeks. The CO2 powered dragster project was the brain child of Middle School teacher Matt Hall and financed by grant from Amcor Rigid Plastics.

Earlier this year, Amcor Rigid Plastics employees met with Hall and principal Jennifer Mayes to discuss Amcor supporting a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education project. In response, Hall–who had participated in a similar project in another district as a student teacher–proposed implementing a CO2-powered Dragster project here in Manchester. He and fellow science teacher Cindy Karapas asked Amcor for a grant of $2,500 to help fund the project for four sections of 5th grade science providing supplies for all 93 fifth-graders at the Manchester Middle School.

Leading up to the designing, building and racing, students learned about motion, force, velocity and acceleration as well as Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. They also studied transportation technology and alternative fuel sources. Students had to design and build a prototype of their car out of foam before building the final wooden car. This involved prototyping, foam cutting, making a wood template, drilling axle holes, sawing, sanding, and painting. While parents and teachers provided assistance, students did all of the work themselves. They were responsible for different stations during the races including the finish line, repairs, CO2 cartridge insertion and removal, race track maintenance and photography and videography of every race.

IMG_0883Imagine a pinewood derby race, two cars at a time, except on a flat surface. Instead of gravity power, the forward momentum comes from a small CO2 cartridge. Fishing line is fed through small rings attached on the cars, to direct them to the finish line. The result is that the cars cover the distance of the hallway in a blink of an eye. They are so fast, in fact, that a special finish line detector is set up to determine which car reaches it first because otherwise in some cases, it would be nearly impossible to tell who won. Friday’s overall winners were Brandon Blumenauer, who placed first and Megan Warboy, who placed second.

Click HERE to watch a YouTube video of one of the races.

Lori Stratton, Communications Specialist for Amcor, said, “Parents have been very supportive, both volunteering in the classroom and helping at home. One of our employees, Cheryl Smith, whose 5th grade son participated in the project, has received numerous text messages and emails from other parents who volunteered with the program, thanking Amcor for their support. This project is an excellent example of a win-win for Manchester Middle School students, parents, staff, Amcor Rigid Plastics and the community. We appreciate how the hard work from students, teachers and parents has helped make this program a success.”

Friday's winners Brandon Blumenauer and Megan Warboy. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.

Friday’s winners Brandon Blumenauer and Megan Warboy. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.

Hall said, “This project was a great way to expose students to how science applies to real world problems. The project is also a great way to expose students to STEM careers that they might be interested in the future. Exposing students to different types of STEM careers is very important because we have a shortage of people to fill these types of jobs in the United States.”

Hall went on to explain that the Middle School is trying to expose students to STEM careers through projects like the CO2 car project, the Google CS First Coding Club which formed in January, technology classes, and other classroom based projects.

If you want to see the CO2 cars race in person, there will be demonstration races on April 22nd at Klager Elementary School’s Math and Science Night, which is open to the whole community and free to attend.


Foam prototype cutting. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.


The CO2 Dragster “garage.” Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.

Drill press. Photo courtesy go Joanne Kemner

Drill press. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner


Sanding. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.


Painting. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.


Prototype work. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.


Finished product. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kemner.


Race Day. Feeding the fishing line into the ring.


Student pit crews repaired cars damaged during the races.


The starting set-up assured both cars launched at the same time.


This student wore Michigan State clothes to cheer on her Michigan State-themed car.


These students recorded the race from the finish line.


Sometimes the impact at the finish line was so great parts flew off the cars.


Although it appears to have lit up before the car reached the finish line, this photo actually caught the car bouncing back after crossing the finish line.


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