In Tylor Hankins’ eighth grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) class, students are troubleshooting their dragsters. “It’s still going in circles.” “I think it’s too heavy in the front.” “This part keeps the wheel from moving.” The big race is only a few days away, but there are lots of problems left to solve.
Hankins’ class worked in teams to design and build their own dragsters. The challenge: to be the fastest car to make it 20 feet down the hallway. Bonus points if the team could get it to stop within one foot of the finish line. The students built driverless cars using VEX robotics parts from dozens of bins: metal brackets and bars, sprockets and gears, wheels, motors, and more. Working in the programming language RobotC, they programmed the driverless cars to run the short course.
Because all the cars were unique designs, they all had different results—some intended, and some not intended. Hankins moved from group to group, helping them pinpoint the issues and find the best solution. As they tried different solutions—changing the programming, shortening the frame, reconfiguring the gears and wheels—they went back out to the hallway for test runs. One went a short distance before crashing into the wall. Another didn’t go at all. And it was back to the drawing board.
Ally Ravelli, Carlie Madsen, and Quincy Woltersdorf show their dragster.
The Fabrication Lab is filled with bins of parts and tools for use in robotics projects.
Students test race their dragsters on the 20-foot hallway track.
“This project has a lot of problem solving, a lot of variables, and a lot of failure,” Hankins said. “But when there are problems, they can figure it out. This is the first real robot that they’ve built. So it’s a learning process.” Their next projects will be making BattleBots (robots that compete with each other) and a factory work cell (a mini-factory that can manufacture blocks with specific features). The dragster project gives students the mechanical and programming skills they’ll need for future builds.
The diversity of dragster design means the students will have an interesting race day, with four wheeled cars vs. six wheeled cars, long dragsters vs. compact ones. “It’s a fun project,” Hankins said. He watched as another group’s dragster sped down the hallway and cruised just over a foot past the finish line.
The students checked the distance. “Is it a foot? It’s more than a foot.” They look disappointed.
Hankins smiled. “You’re close, guys, really close. You’ve almost got it.” The students picked up the racer and headed back into the Fabrication Lab, excitedly discussing ways to solve the problem, ready to try again.