Car Boat Project

Car Boat Project - Boy Time Trials

Car Boat Project – Boy Time Trials

Jeanette Yee, is a 4th grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School. She applied for an Excel Grant last fall so her students could “build foam car boats and race them down the hallway” … what a cool teacher!

Actually, her application read:  Students will combine the joy and excitement of mechanical toys with science content, “Electric Circuits” by constructing an air propelled motor boat for their culminating project. Students will use functional reading and apply science skills by building circuits and troubleshooting. Students will use functional reading and apply science skills by building circuits and troubleshooting. Students will be engaged because they love to build science models and will have an opportunity to participate in a car boat time trials.

Who wouldn’t feel joy and excitement when they  found out that they were going to build foam car boats and race them down the hallway!

Here’s more from Jeanette’s final report:

It was an exciting two weeks, as we planned the body of our car boats, cut out and assembled the foam pieces for the body. Then students wired the switch, batteries, wires, motors and propellers to complete the circuit.  They also spent some time troubleshooting how to get more power to the motor to move their car as well as figure out how to change the direction of the motor to force the propeller to move air away from the car instead of the same direction. After all the cars were built, wired, and decorated, it was race day. We had elimination races with 6th grade judges at the finish line.  (time trial standings below)

This grant has made a huge difference in our class because without it we could not have been able to afford to make our car boats.  I saw such positive benefits from this project and I am very grateful to the Highline Schools Foundation.  My students applied what they learned into an end of unit project, they worked cooperatively and persevered when things didn’t work as planned, and students got excited about science and considered engineering as future career prospects.

Car Boat Project

Students worked together to troubleshoot problems and consulted with each other.

First, my class learned to persevere when we encountered hurdles.  We worked together to troubleshoot problems and they consulted with each other.  There was never a time when a student gave up, because they knew this was theirs and they will get a chance to race it.  They offered to teach and share with each other what they have learned and worked cooperatively.   I was impressed at how they kept a positive attitude when we encountered our biggest problem which was having everything work but not having enough power to make the car boat move.  Eventually we figured out it was due to the way we wired our circuit, wiring it as a parallel circuit instead of a series circuit. This was real life science and sometimes, things took time for scientists to figure out how to solve problems. 

Second, certain groups of students who normally struggled with other subject areas were able to show their strength with this project.  One student with severe reading difficulties really blossomed throughout this project because he is very tactile and hands on. He was able to wire his car to include all the parts and had a great time consulting with his classmates as they troubleshoot some of the obstacles they were encountering.  My girls also became more confident with science because they learned for themselves how to switch the direction of the motor, how to make the wheels turn and still attach it to the car/boat body, how to get more power to the motor by making a serial circuit instead of wiring it as a parallel circuit.  Before this project, only one of my 28 students had ever built a motor car and this project allowed all of my students to gain that experience.

Last, I was especially pleased to hear some of my students who enjoyed putting this project together share that maybe someday, they might become an engineer. We discussed that they should look into mechanical engineering if they enjoyed this kind of work.  We also had a community volunteer who worked for the FAA give us some pointers on how else we can improve our car/boats.  We mentioned continuing to work hard in elementary and middle school and plan on applying into Aviation High School in the future.

Here are the results of all their hard work:

Car Propeller Trials
First Second Best
Time Time Time Rank
6 Ethan H. 5.7 4.7 4.7
10 Julia M. 8.7 5.6 5.6
5 Ethan G. 13.8 5.7 5.7 1
1 Alicia A. 7.9 6 6 2
13 Angel P. 7.2 6.8 6.8 3
16 Karissa S. 7 9 7 4
2 Brayan M. 17.7 7.1 7.1 5
24 Savion V. 7.2 7.2 6
4 Jessie F. 7.5 9.3 7.5 7
11 December M. 11 7.7 7.7 8
7 Stacey O. 7.8 9.4 7.8 9
15 Taylor R. 7.9 11.3 7.9 10
9 Corbin K. 8.7 8.2 8.2 11
22 Corbin V. 9.5 8.4 8.4 12
18 Malakai S. 8.7 9 8.7 13
25 Heily C. 16.5 8.8 8.8 14
21 Billien T. 10.6 9 9 15
12 Zoe M. 12 9.5 9.5 16
19 Valentine S. 9.7 9.7 17
23 Anjali V. 13.1 10.9 10.9 18
8 Sean K. 16.7 11.4 11.4 19
26 Rigo I. 11.6 12.2 11.6 20
3 Alexander C. 32.7 13.8 13.8 21
20 Mariam S. 16.2 16.1 16.1 22
14 Isaac G. 26.2 26 26 23
17 Cameron S. 28.1 28.1 24

Some quotes from the students:

“I learned that the motor & propeller can turn a different direction depending on the way you wire it. It was awesome!”  ~ Billien T.

“Super fun project.” ~ Valentine S.

“I learned that the propeller has to force air in the opposite direction for the car to move. Thank you for donating money so we can make our car boats.” ~ Anjali V.

 “I learned that you have to have a series circuit so that your car would have more power and not use a parallel circuit. Series circuits gives you more power but will only last for a short amount of time. Parallel circuits last longer but does not have a lot of power.” Thank you for helping us buy materials to make our car project.” ~ Zoe M.


If you are a teacher in the Highline Schools District and are interested in our Excel Grant program, you can find more information on our website. Grant requests are accepted each fall, and we announce the program on our website and Facebook.

Since 1999, the Highline Schools Foundation has been supporting innovation and excellence in Highline Public Schools. Our funding priorities focus on programs to improve academic achievement, supporting college and career readiness, grants to teachers for engaging classroom projects, the arts, athletics, and programs that keep students in school and productive. Highline is a district full of need and opportunity. The Highline Schools Foundation is the only non-profit organization dedicated to all schools in our district—our goal is to help as many students as possible be successful!

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  1. […] might remember last year’s Car Boat Project – well, it was such a big hit and important learning experience for her students, that Jeanette […]