Investigating Forces: Balloon car activity


In this activity, students build a car out of common materials which is then propelled by the release of air out of a balloon. Teams of students are asked to build a car that travels a minimum distance. The activity is then extended to a competition to build the car that travels the furthest.

Learning Goals

This activity is designed for students to use a varity of skills including critical thinking and questioning, among others.
The activity uses the terms Force, Friction, Weight, and Fluid friction (drag). These terms are reinforced during this activity.

Context for Use

This activity takes five periods in my classroom: three days for the initial car and two for the competition car. I designate a runway for each group to use and a working area (usually a lab bench).
We use hot glue guns in class and the safe usage in each group is addressed in prelab/intro to the activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

I introduce the activity with a couple of examples from previous years and demonstrate the cars to the students. The students anticipate this activity so the intro is short. During the intro I outline requirements for participation, and good group behavior.
Materials needed:
  • I provide the following materials for my students to use to make their cars: cardboard, construction paper, straws, coat hanger wire, plastic pop bottles and caps, and glue and hot glue sticks.
  • I provide scissors, and a hot glue gun for each team. I also have wire cutters and a drill with various bits at a master control center of which adult assistant helps students cut wire and drill holes.
  • I have the students simply discuss their ideas for the first portion of day one. The rest of the time frame is to build, try, modify and try again! During the last two days of competition, I allow students to modify in private by building makeshift blinds, etc. Rules for privacy evolve sometimes.

Teaching Notes and Tips

1) Limit number of glue sticks each group receives- this forces them to think through modifications.
2) Emphasize that the group members shall work together
3) Instead of a drill, I have had students use a drill press in shop.


I assess on two factors:
1) Individual and group participation "snapshots". I look for cooperativness, how modification has occured, etc.
2) Success of car

In the past, those students whose cars do not meet the benchmark distance are allowed to write essays that suggest additional modifications to their cars to achieve the points awarded for this portion.


This activity directly supports the physical science 9-12 forces of nature strand.

References and Resources