Need to practice calculating speed in your classroom? How about using toys?

My students had recently learned the formula for calculating speed. We had completed several practice problems and I knew my students could do the math on paper. However, finding and comparing speeds in real life is much more fun! I thought about using marbles and rolling them down ramps, but that has been done – not very exciting. After another quick online search, I got the idea to calculate the speeds of different toys that could move by themselves. Loved it!

Because I happen to have an almost three year old boy in the house, I knew I could come up with several self-propelled toys. After talking my son into letting me borrow a few toys for the day, he helped me grab the following:

  • Thomas the Train
  • Percy the Train
  • A Shark Airplane
  • A Big Red Car
  • A Little Red Car
  • I also had this lovely wind up toy already in my classroom, which I tell the students is me in my bumper car!

Some of these toys were pull back, others had buttons to turn them on and off. Both worked well!

The other materials needed were:
  • Metersticks
  • Stopwatches
  • Optional tape for start and stop lines
Procedure

First, I placed students in groups of three or four. Each group would get one toy to test at a time and we would rotate the toys. I made sure that each group tested at least 4 toys total.

Once a group received their toy, they had to decided if they wanted to measure the toy for a certain distance, or just until it stopped. Students then timed their toys and measured the distance the toy traveled for that time. With this data, they calculated the speeds of each toy.

Once students had completed four toys, we came back together as a group and compared the speeds. Groups shared their slowest toys. Since not everyone tested every toy, we then compared the actual speeds of each to determine which one was truly the slowest. The bumper car wind up toy definitely took its time! Although there were a few different ideas on which was the fastest toy, most concluded that the Big Red Car won! A few had the Little Red Car at higher speeds. Some believed this was because it was pulled back extra far for these tests!

The fastest toy!

Students had a great time testing each of the toys! And I had a great time watching them comparing the speeds and doing the calculations correctly!

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