Sydney G. detailed how the distribution of weight around a fulcrum she made out of Legos can make the load seem lighter or heavier. “Lots of things can be used as fulcrums: nail clippers, spoons.” She, along with her classmates in Amy Baker’s 3rd grade at Beye, has come to understand these force-and-motion concepts through OPEF’s Geared Up program. With Geared Up, the students use Legos to get a hands-on experience of some concepts in their 3rd-grade science curriculum.

The students were now moving on to building cars, cars that had a flywheel on top so the students could later measure how far their vehicles can travel. Working in teams of two, one team built the car while the other team built the flywheel component. Robert L. explained how the wheels and a rubber band help the flywheel move. He said, “We’re kind of learning science, but it’s fun.” Ben W. added, “The Legos help you understand it better.”

Once the students built their cars, it was time to test their mettle. This involved 4 trials–changing the variables of weight and wheel size in each trial. The students really had to focus on distance and not speed and to closely watch how many rotations the flywheel made. One rotation equals one meter of travel. First the students had to predict how far the car would go in each trial and then record their actual findings–applying scientific method to their exploration.

After sending her team’s car down the ramp, Nicole J. observed that “with a weight on it, it goes farther because I think the weight is kind of pushing it.” Later, when the class was discussing their findings with facilitator and Geared Up Coordinator Gretchen Junker, Josh C. pointed out that it’s gravity that makes the car go down and “weight adds to the gravity.”

One team, Kalem H. and Beau G., tried putting the big and small wheels side-by-side and discovered that the distribution of the weight caused the car to turn instead of making it go farther. In the end, the class determined that the combination of a weight, big wheels in back, and small wheels in front was the most effective design because the larger wheels reduce friction and the weight increases the gravitational pull. Ms. Baker compared it to the Olympic bobsled racers.

Ms. Baker explained later that “the Legos make learning fun for the kids. They think they are playing in school!” In terms of the Lego connection to the science curriculum, she added, “It is also beneficial to have kids get the lesson one more time and really secure the concept in their heads.”

Mrs. Baker’s class will continue to work on Geared Up projects throughout October. Click here to see a slideshow from Ms. Baker’s class.