Ascension’s First Annual Box Car Derby Teaches 6th graders about Math, Science, Art, History, and English

How do you make learning formulas, calculating equations, and writing fun? The 6th-grade team of teachers at Ascension Episcopal school has an answer to get students across the finish line, engaged and inspired!

With its first annual Box Car Derby on Friday, February 7, 2020, Ascension’s cross-curricular project allowed 6th graders to understand and apply knowledge from many disciplines. Ascension Episcopal School middle school math teacher, Lauren Daly, adapted this creative Box Car Derby project from Clark’s Creative Education to engage her students in hands-on learning. "My biggest joy in teaching comes from watching the students participate in hands-on, real-world activities that make the walls of the classroom disappear.”

Prior to the Derby, students began by learning the origins and history of Box Car Derbies in history class. In math, students reviewed and manipulated formulas for acceleration, force, and velocity to achieve their desired goal. In art, students experimented with topics like wheels and axles, weight balance, friction, aerodynamics, and more. Next, they worked with partners to brainstorm, draft a design, and devise a plan to build their boxcars.

Students constructed their cars during six class periods over two days. Through collaboration and communication, teams built their cars with supplies like bottle caps, CD's, food boxes, duct tape, hot glue, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, and additional items. During test runs, students embraced failure, adapted designs, and encouraged each other not to give up.

When race day finally arrived, students assumed roles to measure, collect, and analyze data from three runs. Then, students brought the data back to their science class to calculate and analyze the measurements obtained. The fastest car, the car with the most force, and the car that traveled the farthest from each class were named winners.

Students documented their experience in english class by journaling about the design process, recording field notes, reflecting on relationships between velocity and force, and composing a newspaper article piece to summarize the Box Car Derby.

“Through this Box Car Derby project, students saw formulas come to life and experienced a safe space for risk-taking while cars were built. The students put tremendous effort into building their boxcars, yet some found, they had to make several adjustments, for some that meant rebuilding. I loved seeing the creativity that was encouraged through this project,” Daly shared.

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