Propeller car design challenge (Grade 3)

Grade: Three

Topic: Understanding matter and energy, forces causing movement

Design Challenge:

Using the materials provided, students will design, build and test a propeller car that uses forces to create controlled movement. The car must include a rolling platform that supports a rubber band powered propeller. To be successful the propeller and rubber band system must drive the car forward a minimum of three metres. Optional activity, use pennies to the maximum load a student's car can carry for the distance of three metres. Using appropriate science and technology vocabulary including push, pull, load, distance, and speed. Students will complete a report (oral, written, graphic, or multimedia) that addresses a task (or tasks) the teacher has selected from the following list:

  • give a demonstration to show how a device was constructed and how it performs;
  • use a drawing to illustrate the design alterations needed to improve a device;
  • describe with pictures and/or in writing the steps required to build a device.

  • OCTE 2012 – Elementary Conference Workshops

    wooden propeller car sample


    • CSA approved safety glasses/goggles, one pair per person (parent volunteers included);
    • an approved eyewash station; this can be two eyewash bottles containing approved eyewash fluid that has not reached its expiry time limit after decanting, or an installed system (an actual eyewash station, or approved faucet attachment);
    • a first aid kit (please see your Board's Health and Safety Regulations if one is being purchased for your classroom);
    • basic hacksaws (junior saws), or coping saws, minimum one for every 3 projects;
    • bench hooks, minimum one for every 3 projects;
    • 3" C-clamps, minimum one for every 3 projects;;
    • a ruler, one per project:
    • scissors, if students are cutting their own gussets, one pair for every project (students may supply their own);
    • hammer one for every 5 projects, if using a nail to hold the elastic in place at the end of the wood strip;
    • long nose or needle nose pliers (one pair for each teacher/helper); these are needed for "bargain" store wheel designs only;
    • nail guide: corrugated cardboard strips with a split in the end; this is used to hold finishing nails at a safe distance from little fingers


    • 2 basswood strips 24" x 1/2" x 1/2" (12mm x 12mm x 61cm) per project;
    • 1 basswood building strip 4 mm x 9 mm, some sanding may be needed to accommodate
    • the propeller assembly; PLEASE NOTE a third 1/2" x 1/2" strip may be substituted, but some cutting will be needed to fit the propeller assembly on the end;
    • 1 propeller, 152 mm and includes plastic nose and bearing shaft, per project;
    • 1 paper clip, small finishing nail, or screw eye per project (to hold the elastic in place at the back end of the propeller assembly); please note that popsicle stick fins or wooden post can also be used to anchor the elastic at the tail end of the wood strip;
    • 1 drive band (long elastic) per project;
    • wheels and axles
    • cardstock gussets (triangles to glue over wood joints for added strength), 12-16 per project;
    • glue, about 500 ml for the class;
    • sand paper, medium to fine grit, 1 sheet for every 5 projects;
    • centimetre grid paper, (optional) to trace out parts and determine if there is enough wood for the lengths required;
    • pennies, to create a measurable testing load (optional).