When English mountaineer George Leigh Mallory was asked about his motivation for climbing Mount Everest, his famous reply was “Because it’s there.” Often, questions arise regarding why people do what they do. For example, some have questioned why others whack a golf ball onto a grassy meadow, find it, then whack it again, only to engage in even more finding and more whacking. For nearly every activity on this planet, there are those who ask, "Why?" Each time this question is posed, the activity's proponents will offer dozens of answers as varied as they are passionate.
A casual observer at the recent Technology Student Association National Conference in Dallas, Texas, might have asked –
Why do students race CO2 dragsters? Or, why do teachers include the CO2 dragster activity in their classroom curriculum? Why does TSA, at the national conference and dozens of state events, feature CO2 dragster competitions for middle school and high school students?
Here are a few possibilities:
- It’s a nice break from the textbooks – Many students welcome any chance to escape the traditional classroom environment of textbooks and teacher-delivered lectures. Designing, building, and racing CO2 dragsters creates a climate where the student is actively engaged in discovery, rather than passively absorbing information.
- Concepts and skills learned – Teachers know that students will learn STEM concepts from their dragster experience. Here are a few:
- Science: Newton’s laws of motion, forces, friction, inertia, mass, acceleration, and so forth
- Technology: Technical drawing, CAD, specifications and tolerances
- Engineering: Design, prototyping, analysis, production, improvement
- Math: Measurement, calculation, comparison
- Competition motivates – Racing has probably been around since about five minutes after the invention of the wheel. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned race to inspire students to focus on their project with laser intensity. The mastery of STEM concepts is simply a means to gaining a competitive edge. The magic words for a teacher to motivate students? Let’s race!
- Challenge and reward – The dragster activity challenges kids in new ways. They conceive their own design, placing emphasis on what they believe to be the most important aspects. They’re responsible for making their design a physical reality. Their experience culminates as they witness their own creation blast down the racetrack with surprising speed. This thrilling, action-packed moment rewards all their efforts.
- Craftsmanship and creativity – Each student’s design is their own. They innovate their own solutions to problems and craft their cars according to their individual ideas and tastes. Whether a student is more concerned about speed or aesthetics, the process is a creative outlet.
- Social rewards – While students build cars individually, they also learn from one another. A student will often incorporate a good idea into his or her own design based on insight shared by a classmate. Students who build a second or third car will often improve their design based on what they’ve observed in the competition in a previous racing event. Along the way, students grow to respect their competitors and get positive feedback for their own accomplishments.
- It’s fun!