Students in Jake Hinz’s Earth systems class at Thomas Stone High School recently felt the need for speed — or at least the need to see how far wheels made from discarded DVDs can travel.

Freshmen in Hinz’s class study energy conversion in class. Those lessons come to life through the designing, building, and testing of Rube Goldberg machines and mousetrap cars. “They create an energy conversion device which just takes one form of energy and turns it into another one,” Hinz said. For the projects, “students design it, prototype it, redesign it and compete it,” he said.  

Students work on their projects in class and at home, using whatever materials they think will perform best. They pick up pointers from YouTube tutorials and the engineering teacher at Stone, Hinz said. “In a follow-up, the students have to write up their challenges, what worked, what didn’t,” Hinz said. “They answer how the energy transformed from the potential energy of the spring to the kinetic energy of the car and where there were energy losses.”

The recent mousetrap car races were held in the commons area and featured vehicles crafted by three students. Hinz’s students from other classes were invited to watch the races, joined by Principal Shanif Pearl. Freshmen Jordan Loeffler, Lukas Righter and Todd Waller lined up their designs on the starting line. Each car had its own set of issues. Waller’s car would stay straight, but not travel far. Righter’s car went the distance but would take a wide curve before coming to a stop and Loeffler’s design stopped about midway down the race lane. Ninth graders Eric Wheeler and Christina Monticquee served as judges, standing on either side of the finish line, while freshman Lamarion Johnson grabbed a measuring tape to record accurate readings.

Waller admitted to being a bit dejected by the performance of his car which featured two mousetraps. Hinz was having none of it and encouraged Waller to head back to the drawing board. “I’m teaching you how to think,” Hinz told the student. “Something that looks like a failure, in the beginning, can be turned into a major success.”

Johnson and Waller leaned over the car, discussing options and edits that would improve its performance. “That’s what science is about,” Hinz said, listening to the two as they brainstormed tactics and fixes. “Learning from your mistakes and improving.”

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