The physics of togetherness

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It's a lesson that teaches more than physics and is bigger than science.

The construction of mousetrap-powered cars is an eighth-grade project that one teacher thinks can increase self-esteem and enhance family ties.

"I think it's a good male role-model project, and it gives daughters time to work with their fathers in a way they normally don't," Craig Middle School science teacher Amanda Ellis said.

Students who also are more mechanically inclined than they are book smart also get the opportunity to excel, she said.

Students worked with fathers, uncles, grandfathers -- and in one case, a sister's boyfriend -- to make their cars.

They were given six weeks to construct a vehicle powered by mouse-traps and were set loose with very little instruction.

Ellis said students were taught basic principles and given some guide-lines, but the design was up to them.

Some students found a use for the endless number of compact discs that Internet service providers send through the mail to solicit customers. Others put toy-truck tires to use.

Fourteen-year-old Kristina Cos-tello and her father looked up "distance mousetrap racers" on the Internet.

"The site said having big back tires and small front tires would make it go faster," she said.

So she used vinyl LP records as the back tires and a 45 as the front tire.

The principle might have been sound.

Unfortunately, Costello had a hard time just getting her car started.

She said the project took her about three weeks to complete.

"I think my dad was more excited about it than I was. He went out and bought me tools to make it," she said.

Hollie Shipley had help from her entire family. Her father chose the miniature monster-truck tires, and her brother mounted a Lego driver.

They were going to add lights but ran out of time.

"(Students) really enjoy this as a whole," teacher Norm Yoast said.

In Ellis's class, students get a B grade if their car runs.

The top three for distance earn A grades.

In Yoast's class, points are award-ed if cars meets building specifications and additional points for the distance they traveled.

What students are trying to do is create a car using the law of physics that states force times mass equals acceleration.

"We've found a lot of times the slow and steady ones win the race," Ellis said.

"The ones that start off fast tend to fizzle out."

Eighth-grade students have been completing this project as a course in mechanical standards for 12 years.

Yoast said he has seen some pretty ingenious braking systems added to the cars during the years that a distance maximum is set.

During the years students go for distance, pulley systems are popular.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or ccurrie@craig--daily----press.com.

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