Creativity, Physics and Function: Eighth Graders’ “Newton Vehicles”

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion formalized in his 1687 tome Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), has intrigued scientists and curious students ever since – and was the inspiration for a recent Mount Madonna middle school physics project. Under the guidance of science teacher Nicole Silva, the eighth grade students created vehicles that demonstrated this Newtonian principle.

Working in small groups, with a partner or individually, and using materials of their choice, students designed a vehicle that could travel through the air, across the land or by water. To meet the project requirements, the vehicle had to be able to travel forward at least one and half meters without deviating from its intended course by more than a meter. It also needed an “engine source” to propel and initiate its motion (student energy and gravity were not allowed); some students chose to use balloons, rubber bands and chemical reactions as a basis for their engine.

“Hands-on projects such as the ‘Newton Vehicles’ bring science to life,” said Silva. “When students are allowed open-ended inquiries, it provides opportunities for them to be creative and think out of the box. They get to invent, create, test and actually apply the physics concepts they are learning in class.

“It is essential for students to have a few projects that have minimal guidelines, so they can be creative and invent something new, as well as finding out how difficult it is to actually create something, “ she continued. “I want my students to understand that trials and tribulations of inventions and engineering is a very real process. That frustration, reevaluating, and trying over and over again are all essential parts of the science, engineering and invention process. Not giving up and having to look at something with a new perspective is part of the process, and sometimes it’s the most important part!”


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Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.