Making More Stuff: Making Stuff Faster

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Ever since humans have stood on two feet, we’ve had the basic urge to go faster. What does it take to make humans go faster? In the following series of investigations, students will build a simple car out of a block of wood and get comfortable using hand tools. They’ll make modifications and test their car for speed, learn what makes cars faster, and then apply that knowledge to the design of a model car, built from scratch

Adapted from Making More Stuff: Faster by NOVA via the Making More Stuff project


Technology and Society, Mechanics, Engineering


Students will design and build a simple model car and then compare its performance in a series of races.

Materials in this kit:

Recommended for each student: The materials provided for this activity include:

  • Pencil and paper
  • Wood for the car body (1” x 2” x 6″ or 1” x 3”x 6″ recommended)
  • Wheels
  • Axles
  • Sandpaper
  • (Optional) Variety of decorative materials, such as markers and stickers
  • (Optional) Inclined plane or propped-up, long table to use as a test track
  • Hand saw
  • Ruler
  • Clamp
  • Hammer/mallet
  • Safety glasses

Suggestions for the Teacher:

Things to talk about:

What does “fast” mean to you? Are there different kinds of fast?
What are some examples of fast movement?
What are some examples of fast processes?
Why do we want or need to make things faster?


Have your students wear safety goggles
Hammering and working with the hand saw and sandpaper could possibly generate flying debris.

Additional Resources:

Making More Stuff: Faster CRISP aligned standards
Making More Stuff: Faster teacher module

Making Stuff Faster Guide from NOVA
Making Stuff Faster Presentation from NOVA

Making More Stuff Website

Real World Applications:
Ever since humans have stood on two feet, we’ve had the basic urge to go faster. How do engineers use design and materials science to make stuff faster?

Airplanes and Jets that break the sound barrier
Race cars
Turbo engines
Emergency response needs

STEM Careers:

Structural Engineer
Civil Engineer
Mechanical Engineer
Materials Scientist
Mechanical Engineering Technologists
Marine Engineers and Naval Architects
Industrial Engineer
Health and Safety Engineers
Engineering Managers
Mechanical Engineer


NGSS Performance Tasks:

MS-PS3-2 Energy

  • Develop a model to describe that when the arrangement of objects interacting at a distance changes, different amounts of potential energy are stored in the system.

MS-ETS1-1 Engineering Design

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas:

PS3.A: Definitions of Energy

  • A system of objects may also contain stored (potential) energy, depending on their relative positions.

PS3.C: Relationship Between Energy and Forces

  • When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object.

MS - ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems

  • The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

MS - ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions

  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
NGSS Cross-Cutting Concepts:

Systems and System Models

  • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions – such as inputs, processes, and outputs – and energy and matter flows within systems.

Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

  • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment. (MS)
  • The uses of technologies and limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. (MS)
  • New technologies can have deep impacts on society and the environment, including some that were not anticipated. Analysis of costs and benefits is a critical aspect of decisions about technology. (HS)
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

SEP 2 – Developing and Using Models

  • Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.

MS SEP 8 - Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

  • Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or now supported by evidence.

HS SEP 3 –  Planning and Carrying out an investigation

  • Plan and conduct an investigation individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, and in the design: decide on types, how much, and accuracy of data needed to produce reliable measurements and consider limitations on the precision of the data (e.g., number of trials, cost, risk, time), and refine the design accordingly.

Suggested Video(s):