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We will be sharing a STEM challenge children can do at home. Complete the challenge and share your results on social media with @BramptonLibrary #kidsatBL! 

This week’s challenge: 

This week we are challenging children to design, build and test a balloon-powered vehicle.

Supplies you will need:

  • Scissors
  • Clear Tape (like Scotch Tape)
  • Heavy Tape (like Duct Tape)
  • Balloons
  • Straws (regular, jumbo)
  • Wooden Skewers
  • Recyclables: e.g. cardboard, water bottles, paper towel rolls, small boxes, empty tape rolls
  • Measuring Tape (to measure how far your vehicle travels!)

The physics behind this activity:

  • Have you ever blown up a balloon and then let it go? The air rapidly escapes from the balloon, making it zip all over the place! 
  • When you inflate a balloon, it stores potential energy in the stretched rubber and the compressed air inside. Potential energy is energy that is waiting to do something.
  • When you release the balloon, the air is expelled out the back, which pushes the car forward. This is an example of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
  • As the car moves forward, the potential energy stored in the balloon is converted to kinetic energy, the energy of motion. 

Tips to get started: 

  • Sketch how you will build your vehicle, just like engineers do! Think about what materials you want to use for your car and how you will connect the different pieces together. Part of the engineering design process is deciding what materials to use and then testing them.
  • There is no “right answer” when it comes to building your vehicle. Your car might not work perfectly on the first try - and that’s OK! Engineers don’t get it perfect on the first try, which is why they design and test multiple times. 
    • Test early in your building process, and test often as you make adjustments or add new parts.
  • If you are having trouble with your vehicle, try asking yourself these questions:

    • Are the wheels stuck?
    • Is the car too heavy for the balloon to push?
    • Do you need to use more tape to hold things together?
    • Are the wheels or axles crooked? 
    • What if you inflate your balloon more?

If you liked this activity, you might enjoy these free resources from our digital library: 

Geronimo Stilton #54: Get Into Gear, Stilton! By Geronimo Stilton (fiction, recommended for children 7-10 years)

Balloonology by Jeremy Telford (non-fiction, recommended for children 9-12 years)

Classic Goosebumps #30: The Haunted Car by R.L. Stine (fiction, recommended for children 9-12 years)

Resources for grown-ups:

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