What can you make with three plastic drinking straws, one coffee stirrer, four wooden spools, three sheets of paper, and unlimited quantities of masking tape? Eighth graders in Middle School Science Teacher Sarah Bain’s Earth and Space Science seminar class discovered that these everyday items — combined with lots of ingenuity and teamwork — can result in a fun and fascinating lesson in mass, distance, and aerodynamics.
Mrs. Bain recently tasked her students with constructing miniature versions of wind rovers (wind-driven sail cars) out of simple materials. The goal? To build prototypes and test, evaluate, and redesign them over the course of several weeks before the ultimate challenge: to see which wind rover, powered only by the wind generated by a fan, could roll along a straight, three-foot-wide racetrack the length of the classroom.
In the Bryan Innovation Lab
, students eagerly watched as their unique designs shimmied down the track. Adding to the excitement: Once the competition began, no modifications to the wind rovers could be made. The one that traveled the longest distance was declared the winner. Olivia Krouse ’27
and Audra Scholtz ’27
created the winning design with a simple down-sloped sail on top of two axles using their four wooden spools as wheels. Olivia especially enjoyed the innovative nature of the lesson. “I learn better when I do hands-on projects,” she said.
Mrs. Bain noted, “This project was a great way for students to learn the importance of collaboration, communication, and the inevitable frustrations that come with scientific exploration. For example, when constructing their wind rovers, they were allowed to cut or bend the paper and straws, but they couldn’t make any modifications to the wooden spools — so they learned to make adjustments where they could. They also realized the importance of being flexible and listening to one another’s feedback.”
For teammates Lucky Moore ’27, Adam Krawitz ’27, and Owen Engel ’27, the assignment was a fun way to experiment with different designs. “Getting the sail right in order to catch the wind” was a bit challenging, said Lucky. “We took off the wheels, but that didn’t work, so we added them back on.” Lucky’s favorite part of the project? “The testing, and seeing the results of the improvements we made,” he said enthusiastically.
Like all Steward students, Mrs. Bain’s eighth graders are honing their critical thinking skills when they engage in beyond-the-classroom projects. “Lessons such as this one, as well as our bubble lab
and cookie experiments
, allow students to have hands-on experiences that help solidify what they are learning,” she said.