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Students use math, science to race remote-controlled cars

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Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2011 12:00 pm

By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

Exploring the relationship between torque and speed, Shoemaker High School students transformed a slick cafeteria floor into a racetrack for science and math interaction.

A group of teachers, representing math, science and engineering won a Killeen Independent School District Education Foundation grant that funded purchase of miniature NASCAR vehicles and supplies to apply racing to learning.

On Dec. 2, with their blacktop course damp and visibility low due to fog, students designed a racecourse in the school cafeteria.

Math, science and engineering students from freshmen through seniors tried their hand on the remote-controlled vehicles, altering gear ratios and practicing to negotiate the slick surface.

Engineering teacher John Melvin directed much of the event with a microphone, mixing teaching and race announcing. He said the grant allowed students to experiment in a way that looked like play.

Students spent about three hours racing through heats on the cafeteria course to find the most consistent driver and the most effective gear ratio for the NASCAR-style racers.

The students spent a week practicing with the cars and anticipated using the outdoor surface, with much more traction so the weather forced them to adjust to account for the slippery surface.

The electrical cars allow students to work through multiple modifications, setting up the possibility of many car-racing exercises.

Students gathered and recorded data on the car races and planned to prepare graphs and analyze statistics.

Shoemaker junior Jamie Funk emerged as the most effective driver, pulling the best times with various cars.

"We're trying to find the best gear ratio to go the fastest," Funk said. "The floor is slippery so you can't really go fast."

Sandra Melendez, STEM Academy coordinator at Shoemaker, said students watched a video to learn how racing correlates with math and science variables like distance, velocity and speed.

Students designed tracks and the exterior of the cars, timed the racing heats and figured averages for each car and racer.

Groups of students formed a pit area around a group of tables to work on cars.

A hallway transformed into a practice track. Another group of students worked stopwatches to time each race.

"It's a hands-on application to get students excited about math and science," Melendez said.

"I like competing and trying to get a better time," said Shoemaker student Ronald Mathis.

"It's fun," said Funk, "a lot better than being in the classroom."

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