Race the Track! Design Challenge (Lesson Six)

By Kathy Scoggin, February 23, 2009

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

45-60 minutes


Students and their teachers are introduced to basic physics concepts and the idea of variables through use of Mattel™ Hot Wheels tracks and steel balls. Students will use the design process to explore force and motion. This series of lessons allows students and teachers to work through the design process in order to investigate physical science and experimental design concepts.  It highlights the design process as a tool allowing students to approach issues in a meaningful and productive way. This unit follows a learning cycle of Focus - Explore - Reflect - Apply.  The cycle is followed throughout the entire unit as well as within individual lessons.  It allows students to observe phenomena during their investigations which will lead them to ask questions and design systems in which to explore answers to their questions - and on to further questions.

National Standards

Science Standard 10. Level II. Understands forces and motion 2. Knows that the Earth’s gravity pulls any object toward it without touching it  5. Knows that when a force is applied to an object, the object either speeds up, slows down, or goes in a different direction 6. Knows the relationship between the strength of a force and its effect on an object (e.g., the greater the force, the greater the change in motion; the more massive the object, the smaller the effect of a given force)   Standard 11. Level II. Understands the nature of scientific knowledge 2.  Knows that good scientific explanations are based on evidence (observations) and scientific knowledge 4.  Knows that scientists review and ask questions about the results of other scientists’ work Standard 12. Levels Pre-K and II. Understands the nature of scientific inquiry 1.  Knows that scientific investigations involve asking and answering a question and comparing the answer to what scientists already know about the world 2.  Knows that scientists use different kinds of investigations (e.g., naturalist observation of things or events, data collection, controlled experiments), depending on the questions they are trying to answer 3.  Plans and conducts simple investigations (e.g., formulates a testable question, plans a fair test, makes systematic observations, develops logical conclusions) 5.  Knows that scientists explanations about what happens in the world come partly from what they observe (evidence), partly from how they interpret (inference) their observations


The final challenge involves design, engineering and cooperation. Each team uses the design process to construct a portion of a track that either travels all the way around the classroom or travels a long distance, such as a hallway. The ball must move the entire length of the track without stopping. The group track must contain at least one loop, one jump and one hill. Students will:
  • put what they’ve learned about variables and design to use
  • use their understanding of the interplay of the forces of gravity, force, and speed as it relates to moving a ball through a length of track
  • use the design process as a tool to help them plan, test, revise and test some more
  • work cooperatively to design a track that involves portions from several groups


Each group of students will need:
  • track pieces (8 short, 1 long)
  • connectors (5)
  • jump (launch and catch pieces)
  • one loop
  • small steel ball
  Individual Students will need:
  • Community Design Challenge Task Sheet
  • Community Design Challenge Final Drawing


  • design: plan something for a specific role or purpose or effect; the act of working out the form of something
  • plan: have the will and intention to carry out some action; a series of steps to be carried out or goals to be accomplished
  • build: construct; make by combining materials and parts
  • test: trial; trying something to find out about it; a standardized procedure to determine the presence or properties of an object or substance


1. Present your students with the challenge of having their team construct a portion of a track. Once each team has made their part of the track they will join it with other group’s tracks to create one large track that either travels all the way around the classroom or travels a long distance, such as a hallway. The ball must move the entire length of the track without stopping. 2. begin the hands-on investigation: Review the concept/vocabulary variable  (A variable is anything you can change in an experiment that might affect the outcome.) 3. Ask students about what they’ve learned about variables and how what they’ve learned may help them with construction. 4. Distribute and explain the Design Challenge Task Sheet 5. When explaining the task sheet walk students through the Design Process: a) Identify Problem b) Brainstorm c) Design and Share d) Design Some More e) Construct f) Test g) Adjust 6. Allow 45-60 minutes for exploration; this activity will most likely take several adjustments of the track as groups begin to attempt to join track pieces. (Note:  This process may take some time. Many groups assume they’ll be the start of the track and there may be failed joining of tracks.) 7. Ask each group to analyze their Design Challenge Task sheet to help them with the class discussion.  Questions to use in class discussion: a) Did your team’s original design work when attached to another group’s? Why? Why not? b) What kinds of adjustments were needed? c) What made this constructing challenging? d) How did your group work together? e) How is this like real life? f) How might things be planned in small groups and then become part of a larger construction?


The students should be able to accurately draw the final track created by the class. They should be able to label the release, loops, jumps, and hills.  They should be able to circle the portion that their group built.    

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.