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Activity: Build an Air-Powered Car

local_070403Excerpted from ZOOM Into Engineering Activity Guide, © 2001 WGBH Educational Foundation. Grade level: 2-6. See PuffMobile Pdf.

The PuffMobile

Young students build a car and learn that moving air pushing against an object can make the object move.

Connection to Engineering

In real life, engineers design different types of vehicles using different types of power or fuel. For example, a car is powered by gas, a bike is powered by a person, a carriage is powered by a horse, a sailboat is powered by wind. Engineers are also designing vehicles that run on fuels other than gasoline: wind-powered recreational vehicles, solar-powered cars and hybrid cars.

Materials (for each pair of students)

3 nonbendable plastic straws
4 Lifesavers
8 1/2 x 11 ” sheets of paper
2 paper clips


1. Place a sheet of paper flat on the table. Blow on it. Ask students to brainstorm how they can change the sheet of paper so it will move farther.

2. Organize students into pairs. Challenge them to build a “car” that goes 6 feet with the least number of puffs.

3. Set up a test track by putting a 6 foot strip of masking tape on a smooth surface. Mark a starting line, at 1-foot intervals, and a finish line. Have the students test how many puffs it takes to reach the finish line.

4. If students have difficulty getting started, ask:

“Which pieces look like wheels?”
“How could you make a sail?”
“What can you use to make a car body?”

5. Challenge your students to redesign their cars so it takes fewer puffs to reach the finish line.

Excerpted from ZOOM Into Engineering Activity Guide, © 2001 WGBH Educational Foundation.

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