STEAM in Motion

STE(A)M activities get students involved in not just one content area, but several at the same time.  For group work, this means helping each student show strengths in their interests. For a long list of potential steam exercises, the following site may be helpful:

For a specific, here’s a lesson that gets students applying what they know about physics and energy to a hand-on project: Building a car!


Demonstrate first by building a car as an example.

Ask questions

  • Where is energy being held?
  • At what point does it become mechanical energy?
  • Is this what we mean when we say “wind energy?”
  • How is this power form different than a real car?
  • What similarities does this have to a real car?

Engineering concepts- constructing axels and placing wheels

Science concepts- Potential and kinetic energy, mechanical and electrical



Offer different sizes and materials for the car’s body, axles, and wheels

Options include different shapes of bottles, toy wheels, rubber bands for traction, and other small pieces that allow the students to get creative.

Allow for group discussion as they choose their materials

Have students make notes of their thought process and why they chose the materials they did.  As they experiment with their choices, have them add to their notes with which parts were successful and which ones could have been better.

Once they have finalized their choices, have students race their cars!



The “winner” is the fastest car, but allow students to notice which cars can go the farthest, or which cars are lacking in structural stability.

Have groups decide on an explanation for what sources of power are involved in creating the car’s motion and when each type of energy is involved.

Have students explain their car’s motion in terms of energy and why each piece is helpful or not.



After students have seen it first hand, have students research common materials used for similar modern cars.

Have students list items that could have been more beneficial to use and let them explain these items in terms of energy transfer and physics (when describing traction, for example, look for words like friction).


A presentation may be a good opportunity for students to describe their process.

Key points to cover should be their initial assumptions, things they learned while creating, things they learned after research, and how they could improve their car with other materials.

Grade the presentation in terms of creativity, application of mechanical knowledge, and understanding of physical science in kinetics.



  1. Hey Will!

    I love the idea of using cars to talk about these kinds of energy. I also like the idea of using a presentation as an “Evaluate” – it’s just hard sometimes to separate them from an “Elaborate”project so I’d be careful. I think an activity that could also work would be an egg drop where their contraptions are designed in different ways and they’ll do a lot of the same things you have them (hypothetically) do here. They’d conduct research on the best materials, notice what works and what doesn’t, and describe the energy forms and transfer at several different intervals.

  2. Will

    This is a great activity that allows students to physically create something and simultaneously learn about the different kinds of energy. What really stuck out to me was in your “evaluation”. You were grading your students on the creativity they included in the presentation. I also love your tweet because bringing STE(A)M into class will definitely portray your student’s different strengths. What different kinds of materials will you allow your students to use? Will they be limited to what is available in the classroom or will they be providing materials too?

  3. I think this is a great idea!! I really like the process of going through all of this. I think its helpful to first evaluate a car and talk about what’s happening and why. I like that the kids are going to make their own, also and that there is a goal of winning a competition, but that’s not all-encompassing. Do you think you could maybe bring in a mechanic or even go to a car place to learn more about these concepts? Great post!

  4. Will, first I would like to say how much I enjoyed reading this learning cycle. I think the topic you picked is perfect for a STEAM activity. Something I really enjoyed about this post was how you kept the race car theme going throughout the whole post. I also think that the engage activity will encourage students to be engaged with what they are learning. The questions that you will ask really gets them thinking which is very important. I also love that students will be making and racing their own cars. I also like the elaborate part of the cycle. For the evaluate do you think you could grade anything besides the presentation, such as the car they made? Overall great post!

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