On The Go! Forces and Motion

By Miriam Kelsey, July 23, 2009

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science

Lesson Time

150 minutes for classroom activities


This unit investigates types of motion, forces, gravity, friction, incline, through the design challenge of creating a car that travels the fastest and the farthest.

National Standards

Level I: Standard 1. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process 1. Draws pictures to represent problems 2. Uses discussions with teachers and other students to understand problems  3. Explains to others how she or he went about solving a numerical problem  5. Uses whole number models (e.g., pattern blocks, tiles, or other manipulative materials) to represent problems Standard 3. Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation 2. Solves real-world problems involving addition and subtraction of whole numbers 3. Understands basic estimation strategies (e.g., using reference sets, using front-end digits) and terms (e.g., "about," "near," "closer to," "between," "a little less than") Standard 4. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement 1. Understands the basic measures length, width, height, weight, and temperature 2. Understands the concept of time and how it is measured 3. Knows processes for telling time, counting money, and measuring length, weight, and temperature, using basic standard and non-standard units Standard 5. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of geometry 1. Understands basic properties of (e.g., number of sides, corners, square corners) and similarities and differences between simple geometric shapes 2. Understands the common language of spatial sense (e.g., "left," "right," "horizontal," "in front of") 3. Understands that geometric shapes are useful for representing and describing real world situations Standard 6. Collects and represents information about objects or events in simple graphs
Level I: Standard 10. Understands forces and motion 3. Knows that the position of an object can be described by locating it relative to another object or the background 4. Knows that the position and motion of an object can be changed by pushing or pulling 5. Knows that things move in many different ways (e.g., straight line, zigzag, vibration, circular motion) Standard 11. Understands the nature of scientific knowledge 1. Knows that scientific investigations generally work the same way in different places and normally produce results that can be duplicated 2. Understands that a model of something is different from the real thing (e.g., object, event) but can be used to learn something about the real thing Standard 12. Understands the nature of scientific inquiry 1. Knows that learning can come from careful observations and simple experiments 2. Knows that tools (e.g., thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, balances) can be used to gather information and extend the senses 3. Makes predictions based on patterns Standard 13. Understands the scientific enterprise 1. Knows that in science it is helpful to work with a team and share findings with others
Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 1. Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument Standard 2. Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning Standard 3. Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences Standard 4. Understands and applies basic principles of hypothesis testing and scientific inquiry 1. Understands that changing one thing sometimes causes changes in something else and that changing the same thing in the same way usually has the same result
Standard 2. Performs self-appraisal Standard 4. Demonstrates perseverance 2. Maintains a high level of energy over a prolonged period of time when engaged in tasks 3. Persists in the face of difficulty 4. Concentrates mental and physical energies to meet the demands of the task Standard 6. Restrains impulsiveness
Working with Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group 4. Demonstrates respect for others’ rights, feelings, and points of view in a group Standard 4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills Standard 5. Demonstrates leadership skills
Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing Standard 3. Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process Standard 6. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Listening and Speaking
Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 1. Makes contributions in class and group discussions (e.g., reports on ideas and personal knowledge about a topic, initiates conversations, connects ideas and experiences with those of others) 2. Asks and responds to questions (e.g., about the meaning of a story, about the meaning of words or ideas) 3. Follows rules of conversation and group discussion (e.g., takes turns, raises hand to speak, stays on topic, focuses attention on speaker) 4. Uses different voice level, phrasing, and intonation for different situations (e.g., small group settings, informal discussions, reports to the class) 5. Uses level-appropriate vocabulary in speech (e.g., number words; words that describe people, places, things, events, location, actions; synonyms, antonyms; homonyms, word analogies, common figures of speech) 6. Gives and responds to oral directions
Standard 9. Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media


Students will:
  • understand that geometric shapes are integral in representing real-world things
  • use a variety of problem-solving strategies
  • use computation to solve real-world problems
  • be able to apply properties of geometry
  • display and interpret data using graphs
  • be able to understand and apply concepts of force and motion
  • understand the nature of science knowledge, scientific inquiry and scientific enterprise
  • be able to use the writing process to write in a variety of genres
  • be able to read for information
  • be able to use listening and speaking skills for different purposes
  • use thinking and reasoning skills in the design process
  • use strategies to work well with others
  • will self-regulate
Regarding Mathematics, students will have a basic understanding of: problem solving, computation, geometry, and data analysis. Regarding Science, students will have a basic understanding of: forces and motion (gravity, position and motion, pushing and pulling, motion, and the nature of science. Regarding Life Skills, students will use “Thinking and Reasoning” skills and “Working with Others” skills. Regarding Language Arts, students will have a basic understanding of: pre-writing, drafting and revision, editing and publishing, the ability to evaluate their own and others writing, strategies to organize written work, descriptive writing, list-making, phonetic spelling, writing in a variety of forms, writing for a variety of purposes, the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing, grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions, and gathering and using information for research purposes. Regarding Mathematics, students will have a basic understanding of: problem solving, computation, measurement, geometry, and data analysis. Regarding Science, students will have a basic understanding of: forces and motion (gravity, position and motion, pushing and pulling, motion, and the nature of science. Regarding Life Skills, students will use “Thinking and Reasoning” skills, “Self-Regulation” skills, and “Working with Others” skills.


Annenberg Media http://www.learner.org - Search Options: Catalogs and Previews (including 25 video clips); News (monthly channel offerings, new and featured resources, and an archive); Selected Video Resources (about 75 multimedia resources for teachers and students plus about 50 mathematics and science resources for professional development).  


  • attribute blocks
  • 2D shapes: squares, circles, triangles
  • 3D shapes – cubes, spheres, cones, rectangular prisms cylinders
  • one ramp for each design group
  • Floam – moldable foam
  • modeling clay
  • blocks
  • small boxes
  • wooden craft sticks
  • crayons
  • colored pencils
  • string
  • glue
  • paper
  • construction paper


  • roll: something that is rolled up into a cylinder or ball or rounded as if rolled
  • slide: to move smoothly along a surface
  • zigzag: one of a series of short sharp turns, angles, or alterations in a course
  • force: cause of motion or change
  • gravity: a natural phenomenon by which objects with mass attract one another
  • friction: the force that resists relative motion between two bodies in contact
  • slope: at an angle; slanting
  • cylinder: a solid bounded by a cylindrical surface and two parallel planes (the bases)
  • curved surface: a surface that has a smoothly rounded bend


Design-Based Learning (VIII Steps) Step I. Review the challenge: Clearly define the design challenge and go over any constraints or needs of the client, if applicable. Identify the possible problem or opportunity. 1. Challenge: Students are challenged to design a vehicle that will move the fastest and farthest. 2. Problem: Students will need to determine what design elements will affect the speed and distance the car moves.  Will the shape of the wheels have an effect on the car’s speed? Will the weight of the car effect its speed? What type of force will be needed to make the car move? 3. Constraints: The competition must be fair so students will need to devise rules to ensure fairness.  Let students come up with rules, and alter them if necessary, as they are going through the design process, as during this process they will discover what variables need to remain constant to keep the competition fair.  Rules will be addressed in detail during Step III.  (Note: Through investigation students should determine that the shape of the wheels should be round and the steeper the slope of the ramp the faster and farther the car will go.) Step II. Investigate the problem or opportunity: Gather and analyze information  through interviewing, observing, documenting, or researching existing information. 1. How does it move? Students will investigate different ways different shapes move by placing different 2D and 3D shapes on an inclined ramp (circles, squares, octagons, triangles, spheres, cubes, cones, rectangular prisms). Students will place various shapes at the top of the ramp and observe their movement down the ramp.  (Note: To easily make a ramp, you can use a removable bookshelf and blocks or books stacked under one end of the board.) 2. Students will discuss the different types of motion made by each shape: a straight line, a zigzag, or rotational movement. (Note: The 2D shapes will slide in a straight line.  The cone will roll in a zigzag. The sphere will roll, but it may not consistently roll in a straight line. The cylinder will roll on the curved side and slide on the flat side.  The 3D shapes with flat sides will slide – cube, rectangular prism.) 3. Students will document their findings of how different shapes move by completing a graph. (Attachment: On the Move - Investigation of Movement)  Students will make a prediction about which type of movement is the fastest: sliding, rolling, or zigzagging. Student teams will test their hypothesis by timing the shapes and then analyze the results to determine if sliding, rolling, or zigzagging movement is the fastest. Remediation: Kinesthetic Learning - In order to help younger students better understand movement they can act out the types of movement using their bodies: A. Slide – by sliding feet or skating; B. roll - by rolling a ball or by lying on the floor and rolling (like a child would roll their body down a hill); and C. zigzag – mimic by skating in one direction and then another. Students will document findings of how different shapes move by completing a graph (Attachment- On the Move -Investigation of Movement). 3. Will the slope of the ramp have an affect on the speed or distance the shape travels? Students will investigate placing the shape on the ramp at different slopes. (What happens when the slope changes from high, to low or level?) Students will investigate by using the Scientific Method: Students will draw the ramps with different slopes and make a hypothesis about which ramp they think the same shape will go the fastest and farthest.  Then student design teams will time the shape on the different ramps with a stopwatch or watch and make a chart the results, Students will write about the results of the experiment and then make conclusions about why these results happened. Students will make a real-world connection to something they have done down a hill (running, biking, skating, skate-boarding) and how the incline affected the speed and distance of travel. Students will write about whether their hypothesis was correct and reason why or why not. 4. Teacher, parents, and contacts will brainstorm to find local experts in the field for collaboration with the kindergarten class. Students will write questions about their design idea to engineers, architects, design teachers, or car companies. Step III. Frame/Reframe the Problem: Ask students, "How did your investigation affect your initial reactions to the challenge? Did you identify the correct problem?"  Have them take time to re-examine, rethink, and redefine the correct problem. 1. Ask students, "Based on your investigations so far have you changed your idea for design of your vehicle? If so, what led you to change and why?" Discuss problem to see if adjustments need to be made. What design elements do the students think will have an effect on the speed and distance the car will travel?  (Note: Foster discussion about: What shape should the wheels be? Will the size matter? How will weight have an effect on speed and distance? How does the slope affect the speed and distance?) 2. Investigate texture on wheels. What effect does smoothness compared to a bumpy or rough texture have on rate of speed or distance? Students will discuss the results and analyze what affect the texture had and why.  Have some fur, beads, or other items to create texture to glue on shapes and provide friction. 3. Determine how the competition will be fair and adhere to constraints.  Students are quick to determine fair rules for a game or competition. Through the process of the design challenge students will determine that the slope will affect the speed and distance traveled so this variable must remain constant for all design teams. The teacher may need to create opportunities for each team to have internal competitions so that they will discover important rules.
  • Start at the same time
  • Measure the distance traveled with the same unit of measurement
  • How to accurately time the race
  • Agree on whether the force of push can be used
Step IV. Generate Possible Solutions: Students now brainstorm possible solutions!  Encourage wild ideas, defer judgment, and go for quantity. 1. Students should quickly record these ideas through writing, sketching, diagramming, or modeling. 2. Use team building activities to develop lots of ideas – have each person responsible for giving two ideas, keep the feedback positive about other people’s ideas and record ideas by writing, sketching, or making a model. 3. Students should asset map their group to see who will do best with different activities like drawing, writing, building a model, or doing more research. 4. Student design teams will generate lots of ideas for some possible car designs.  Students can generate possible solutions by examining:
  • Various wheel shapes and textures
  • Various shapes for the body of car
  • Various weights of the vehicle
Step V. Edit & Develop Ideas: Students take it to the next step. They should evelop ideas with the most potential from the previous brainstorming session (Step IV). They should create prototypes through writings, sketches, diagrams, or models. 1. Each student should decide which design idea he or she wants to use. Then the students develop prototypes using all of the design steps below: 2. Draw a large picture – details with diagram of features and parts 3. Written description – students use their pictures to help them describe: a) What does the vehicle looks like? Students describe their pictures using descriptive words and details. b) What is it made from? Students describe materials used to make their prototypes. c) How it will move? Students describe whether their prototype will slide, roll or zigzag down the ramp. d) What geometric shapes will be used to make it? Students describe the geometric shapes used to make their cars' wheels and bodies. 4. Model – students build models of their designs (see Materials list above) Step VI. Share & Evaluate your process and ideas: Students should share, test, or review their prototype solutions with peers or users. They should evaluate the feedback and observations and consider how they could improve their solutions. 1. Students share the prototype and ideas with their group. Students est their prototypes. 2. Students take their prototype ideas outside including their written descriptions, pictures, ramps & models.  Students interview three other peers about their idea.   Explain to students that they should:
  • Tell each child about their vehicle
  • Explain how their design works.
  • Tell the child about how they designed it and what design factors they think will help make their design go faster or farther and why
  • Ask them if they have any suggestions to improve the idea
  • Have them rate whether they think the vehicle will have speed and go far
3. Next students will share their prototypes with the class expert(s) that were found in Step II.  The teacher will compile a book of the pictures and the students’ written descriptions of each vehicle. She will take a video of each team/student explaining the diagrams, model and design process.  Students will ask for final feedback from our class expert(s) to help finalize the solution. Step VII. Finalize the Solution: Students will develop their design solutions further and produce representations of final solutions via diagrams, models, written or oral presentations. 1. Students should use input from experts who will be potential clients (other kids) and their design mentors. 2. Students will make their final prototype:
  • Picture – a large, clear, detailed, labeled diagram.
  • Detailed written description - including how the vehicle moves (slide, roll, or zig-zag) and why you used specific features to make the vehicle go faster and farther. Describe the wheel shape and texture and the shape of the vehicle.
  • Working model - Be able to demonstrate how the vehicle will move on the ramp.
3. Practice Final Presentation – Groups decide what each person on the team will be responsible for during each part of the presentation. Students should write note cards for presentation, and practice reading fluently with a partner. The following should be included: a) Original design idea b) The changes the student made and an explanation of why these changes were made c) The craziest idea the student considered d) Who helped the design process the most: the peer interviewee, the mentor, or the student's team? e) Does the student believe he or she met the constraints and why this is important (Follow rules to play fairly) f) How the student met the needs of the challenge g) What the student learned from the design process h) What the student could improve on next time i) Students should remember to allow time for questions Step VIII. Articulate the Solution and Process: Students present their final solutions.  They should be able to articulate why and how the solution meets the needs of the challenge and/or client. 1. Each student team will present their design solution to the class and video record a tape for the mentor using all the criteria for the Prototype & Picture and the Final Presentation (see above requirements, Step VII, a. through i.).  Each team will measure the time it takes for the car to reach a specified spot.  If the car goes beyond the line, then students will measure how far past.  Each team must include in their presentation and articulate why and how their design met the needs of the challenge of both speed and distance. (Optional: Top performance teams can proceed to the finals for a decisive victory) 2. Students will race the car according to the rules they have determined. Students will be evaluated by self, teacher, mentor and other students. 3. Invite other classes to participate in the design challenge and have a school science fair. The designers can to present to the other students, teachers and parents.


Formative Assessments - on movement and slope for step II (Investigate the Problem) Final Assessments: 1. Working Prototype & Picture Rubric (completed by teacher & design mentor) 2. Written Description Rubric (completed by teacher) 3. Presentation Rubric (completed by teacher & mentor) 4. Team Member Evaluation (completed by each team member) 5. Self-Evaluation (completed by each student)

Enrichment Extension Activities

Enrichment: A) Students can add a car ramps and cars to the playground and continue to improve designs. B) Students could visit an automobile assembly plant. Extensions: A) The design challenge could be changed to designing an airplane that would fly the farthest or a helicopter that stays in flight the longest (gravity, aerodynamics and lift); or a boat with cargo (sink or float, forces to propel the boat, disparagement of weight, boat design). B) Teacher can explain to students about the design challenges the car companies are facing now, including gas prices, gas scarcity, foreign dependence, carbon emissions and global warming; finding alternative energy sources, traffic, cost and challenge them to try to find design solutions to solve these global problems. Students can write questions and possible solutions to car designers.

Teacher Reflection

The unit could be shortened by narrowing the focus to one aspect of design related to specific curriculum. For example, designing a ramp with the optimum slope for uniform vehicles to travel the farthest or fastest.

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