This Mystery is out of date! Please proceed to Energizing Everything to see the updated version.
How can a car run without gas?
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Discuss:

What do you think? When a person is making a car go, can the car go on forever? Why or why not?

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Discuss: Where does this car get its energy from?

windupcar

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Discuss:

If you wanted a wind-up car to go farther, what would you do?

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TEACHERS — NEED A NATURAL STOPPING POINT?

The Rubber Band Roller Activity takes about 40 minutes. Constructing the roller takes about 20 minutes and then racing their rollers in teams takes another 20 minutes.

If your time is limited, there is a natural stopping point after the students complete their rollers. At that point, you could have students write their names on their rollers, then collect them and conduct the race during your next science class.

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Extensions

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the Exploration and Activity you just completed.
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Video: Food is Fuel

You know that food contains energy — it’s the fuel that keeps your muscles moving. Calories — yes, the same calories that people talk about when they are trying to lose weight — are one way of figuring out how much energy food contains.

This video shows you one way that scientist can figure out how much energy is in a particular food -- by setting the food on fire!

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Language Arts Extension: Energize your students’ writing

Help your students see that energy is everywhere. Use these writing prompts to start them thinking about energy in their lives.

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Demo & Discussion: Balloon Blast Off

Inflate a balloon & pinch the neck closed. Let go & show your students what happens. Then ask them to explain where the energy that made the balloon move came from.

Here's an answer: You use your lungs (powered by energy from food you ate) to push air into the balloon. That energy stretches the rubber of the balloon, storing the energy. When you let go, that stored energy makes the air rush out, and the balloon goes flying.

If thinking about balloons inspires your students, consider building some balloon-powered cars

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Image & Video Credits

Mystery Science respects the intellectual property rights of the owners of visual assets. We make every effort to use images and videos under appropriate licenses from the owner or by reaching out to the owner to get explicit permission. If you are the owner of a visual and believe we are using it without permission, please contact us—we will reply promptly and make things right.

Lesson Image
car open hood by Kathleen Tyler Conklin , used under CC BY
Exploration
crowded highway by Tammra McCauley , used under CC BY
gas can by Alisha Vargas , used under CC BY
pumping gas by everycar_listed_photos , used under CC BY-SA
gasoline in driveway by James Quagliano
how an engine works by allegroracing
red vintage car by Christopher Koppes , used under CC BY
electric car by RevaNorge , used under CC BY-SA
batteries by Anton Fomkin , used under CC BY
electric car charging by xlibber , used under CC BY
cars in motion by Hamed Saber , used under CC BY
gas gauge by Chris Metcalf , used under CC BY
red car by Aske Holst , used under CC BY
pushing car by Jessica Dodel
real life Fred Flintstone by ChromeFunTube
TU buscycle by Sustainable Engineering Research Unit, TU
spaghetti and meatballs by TheCulinaryGeek , used under CC BY
swimming by Karen Blaha , used under CC BY-SA
Michael Phelps medal by Eric Draper
egg sandwich by Seph Swain , used under CC BY
fork by Fg2
french toast by Justin Smith , used under CC BY-SA
pancakes by AimeePlesa , used under CC BY
grits by Ann Larie Valentine , used under CC BY-SA
omelet by Nathan Borror , used under CC BY
child flexing by Vicki C , used under CC BY
back sweat by Phil Scoville , used under CC BY
french fries by Christian Schnettelker , used under CC BY
semi truck by Walmart Corporate , used under CC BY
pouring grease by Walmart Corporate , used under CC BY
soybean powered bus by United States Department of Energy
race car by Philip Roberts , used under CC BY
spoon of sugar by Melissa Wiese , used under CC BY
sugar rocket by Johnny61616
RC care by MrBusyBusy
Duracell batteries by Anton Fomkin , used under CC BY
jet car by Arvind Gupta
red balloon by Jason Baker , used under CC BY
sonic car launcher by SonicDadDotCom
spring by Eusebius , used under CC BY
rubber band by Sander van der Wel , used under CC BY-SA
Activity
pen by JohannPoufPouf
frog (left side) by Brian Gratwicke , used under CC BY
frog (right side) by Brian Gratwicke , used under CC BY
checkered flag (at finish line) by Ewan ar Born , used under CC BY-SA
pencil by JohannPoufPouf
checkered flag by meridican , used under CC BY
Other
3D Orange hatchback illustration by Rawpixel.com
Apple Slingshot by Benjamin Weger
Battery batteries accumulator by Oleksandr_Delyk
Busy Highway freeway Los Angeles by MountAiryFilms
Chocolate by André Karwath
Egg Burger by Seph Swain
Girl Sleeping with Sickness on the bed by Rawpixel.com
Hands play shoot rubber band like sling shot by Abaget
How a modern slingshot ride works by Art of Engineering
How to make very easy airplane by _Ex
Impact Racing Green Case Study by EPSRC Video
Jessica Dodel lifts, pushing car by Jessica Dodel
Man Filling gasoline fuel in car by Maria Sbytova
Michael Phelps by Fernando Frazao and Angelica Brasil
Michael Phelps 200m Butterfly Final by Planet Earth
Motorsports, drag racing by Stockshooter
Playing tag at the park by Uott2know
Sick African American girl with flu by Diego Cervo
Soybeanbus by US Gov
Stone ground grits with cheese by Ann Larie Valentine
Sugar by Melissa Wiese
Sunday Omelets by Nathan Borror
Toy Rocket by Theis Kofoed Hjorth
Trompette by Eusebius Commons
WVO Girls by GreenRvLife
Whole grain French toast by Justin Smith
Woman using mobile phone screen by Emariya
hide and seek chase tag by Sisters fun tube 2
snap back to reality by Sander Van der Wel
Print Prep
Activity Prep

To view a revised version of this lesson, please click here.
In this Mystery, students explore how energy can make things go. In the activity, students experiment with rubber-band cars to figure out how much energy the cars need to end up in the “Sweet Spot.”

Preview activity

Step 1: Get supplies, print worksheets, and watch the troubleshooting video.

Each student will need:

  • a #32 rubber band (i.e. ⅛” wide) — available at any office supply store or Amazon (Rubber bands that are thicker will store & release too much energy, causing racers to spin wildly; rubber bands that are too thin won’t store enough energy to make racers move.)
  • a paper cup (8 oz cups are a good size)
  • two disposable plastic cup lids with straw slot in the middle — available at fast food restaurants, coffee shops, Staples. (Lids should be larger than the paper cup)
  • a pencil or pen that can write on the cup lid
  • a toothpick
  • a plastic straw
  • 2 pony beads (9mm size) — available at Amazon and craft stores
  • a large paper clip
  • a 1” x 1” cardboard square (The cardboard from a cereal box is the right stiffness.)
  • a hole punch to share with a few other students
  • a Race to the Sweet Spot worksheet

To set up the racetrack, you will also need:

  • a yardstick or tape measure
  • some masking tape
  • a clear floor space measuring at least 4 feet wide and about 14 feet long

Finally, watch this 2-minute video for tips that will help you keep your rollers from spinning out of control.

Step 2: Before class, cut cardboard squares for students & set up your racetrack.

It takes about 15 minutes to cut and punch squares for a class of 30; 10 minutes to set up racetrack.

Cut the cardboard into squares that are about 1” on each side. If you only have one or two hole punches, we also recommend punching a hole in each square before class.

To set up the racetrack, mark the Starting Line and the two lines on either side of the Sweet Spot with masking tape. The Sweet Spot begins eight feet from the Starting line and ends ten feet from the Starting line.

drawingofracetrack

Extensions
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