Photo courtesy Environmental Science Center (ESC)
Students from New Futures worked with their science instructor from the Environmental Science Center (ESC) to discover the physical laws of gravity through a pinewood derby race.

New Futures students get scientific thanks to the after-school ESC program


Derby Races with a Science Twist

December 19th- A block of wood, four wheels, weights, and an hour of scientific enjoyment. Students from the social service organization, New Futures, worked with their science instructor from the Environmental Science Center (ESC) to discover the physical laws of gravity through a pinewood derby race.
A group of kids racing cars might seem frivolous, but on Tuesday, December 18th, the students were joined by a group of supporters who knew better. As a collaborative effort, several people with similar interests met to discuss and observe after-school science education in action. Included were Gilda Wheeler, Sustainability and Environmental Program Coordinator for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction; Kimberly Kotovic, Highline Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Coordinator; Darcy Nothnagle, Google representative; plus the executive directors, board members, and staff of the Environmental Science Center, New Futures, and King County Housing Authority.

After carefully listening to instructions, the students eagerly started sanding their wood cars and adding wheels. The visiting adults joined in the activity by bravely holding nails for students wielding hammers and suggesting methods to test weight distribution. Once several heats were completed, Oliver’s design proved to be the fastest. When the ESC instructor asked students to observe his car, students were able to point out that he had put weights directly over the axels which lead to a discussion on other forces besides gravity.

With very little lecture on the laws of physics, the students were able to independently design a model car, test predictions, and make observations. As a result, they came away from the activity with a deeper understanding of physics and the variables affecting the races.

Enriching after-school programs that encourage hands-on science activities help boost academic performance and increase students’ interest in STEM subjects. Because not all families have equal access to these types of programs, the Environmental Science Center delivers its programs free-of-charge to collaborating partners and schools who serve low-income families. Google has awarded ESC with a grant of $10,000 to strengthen these programs and academic performance in STEM subjects. By breaking the economic barrier, these programs provide enriching activities to students who would not otherwise have the opportunity.

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