Race the Track! Shoot the Loop (Lesson Three)

By Kathy Scoggin, August 15, 2008

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Other

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 utilize 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 asking questions and designing systems in which to explore answers to their questions - and on to further questions.

National Standards

Science Standard 10.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.  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.  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 4. Conducts simple investigations to solve a problem or answer a question 5.  Asks questions about observations 6. Develops predictions and explanations based on previous experience   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 ball will travel around the loop in this activity. Without enough speed it may not stay on the track because of the pull of the earth, or gravity. However, if the ball has enough speed it will stay on the track  
  • Develop the notion that a variable is anything that you can change in an experiment that might affect the outcome and, in a controlled experiment, only one variable is changed, and the results are compared to a standard
  • Develop students’ understanding of motion and forces
  • Provide opportunity to utilize the design process to help plan and conduct an investigation
  • Develop an understanding of science/design as a human endeavor in which the work of science/design relies on basic human qualities such as reasoning, insight, energy, skill, and creativity—as well as on scientific habits of mind, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas


  Each group of students will need:
  • Shoot the Loop worksheet
  • track pieces (8 short)
  • connectors (7)
  • foam blocks (or other similar objects that each group  could use to create height)
  • loop base
  • meter stick
  • roll of tape
  • can
  • small ball
  • O-W-L chart   (Observe/Wonder/Learn)
  • journal


  • gravity: the attraction due to gravitation that the Earth or another astronomical object exerts on an object on or near its surface


Set-up: 1.  Make copies of the Shoot the Loop worksheets. 2.  Assemble materials station. 3.  Set up a demonstration track. 4.  Put students in small groups. Teacher presentation & motivation: 1.  Use the demonstration track to show the class how to assemble and do this activity. 2.  Demonstrate how to assemble a loop. 3.  Remind the class that the ball should travel around the loop without ever leaving the track. 4.  Distribute and explain the Shoot the Loop worksheet. 5.  Review how to measure height. Step-by-Step process: 1.    Assemble a straight track using 8 track pieces and 7 connectors. 2.    Assemble a loop and connect it to 3 track pieces. 3.    Put two additional pieces of track on the end and attach a can to catch the ball. 4.    Place the release point of the track on top of one foam block (about 6 cm). 5.    Release the ball from the release point and observe. 6.    If the ball did not go around the loop, add another foam block under the release point and try again. 7.    Continue to add foam blocks until the ball successfully travels around the loop 8.    Measure the height (cm) of the release point and record it on the Shoot the Loop worksheet 9.    Add 2 more pieces of track on the release point end, for a total of 5 pieces. 10.    Repeat steps 4-8 on the longer track. Wrap-up: 1.  Discuss as a class:
  • What did you notice about the placement of the loop and the height of the release point as you worked to make the ball go successfully around the loop? What did you notice about the difference between what happened with the ball when the loop was placed three sections from the release point as compared to when the loop was placed five sections from the release point?
  • What does this kind of system remind you of in real life?
  • What do you already know about how it feels to be on an amusement park ride similar to the loops on the track?


•    O-W-L Chart   (Observe/Wonder/Learn) •    Have students draw the two different systems on their Shoot the Loop worksheet and write a group statement on the back of the worksheet or in their journal from the “evidence” they gathered in their investigation.    “We claim _______________ because _____________________.”  Example:  We claim that without enough speed the balls will not stay on the track because when we had a slower ball it always fell off the track before it could go around.   Share and post the statements for further use and discussion.

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • Calculate the ball speed on the different tracks. Create a data chart to record results
  • Can the ball travel successfully around two loops?
  • Create a super loop, making it from two or three pieces of track. Can the ball make it around the super loop?

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