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Fuel-Efficient Sail Car

Level: NADuration: 2-4 class periods
Grade Level: 4-7 Author: Nicole Penn (TAG Member)
Topics: Acceleration, force, speed, motion
Materials: Try This: Engineering Kit, Toy cars with wheels of different sizes, cars of different weights and wheel distances, additional cardboard to change size of wheels, polystyrene, pipe cleaners


Alternative energy sources can make a vehicle more fuel efficient, save money, and help the environment. The design of a vehicle affects its fuel efficiency, size, weight, and speed.


Students will construct and test their toy cars in a few different ways to discover how size, shape, and design affect the speed and performance of vehicles.


Activity 1: Provide teams with a toy car and have them add a predesigned traditional sail to it. Have students suggest reasons why one car worked better than another (car design) – for example, wheels, size of car, weight, and so forth.

Activity 2: Provide students with different sizes of sails. Students will test the same car with different sails and see how it affects the speed.

Challenge 1: Come up with ways to improve the vehicle so it travels farther in a shorter period. Discuss factors such as wheel size, width of driving train, size of sail, and so on.

Challenge 2: Test the vehicles using an inclined plane to see which will reach the finish line sooner within a set period.


Reflect on real-world connections and suggest reasons why a vehicle's design affects its speed and performance.