Lesson Plan

Balloon-Powered Cars

Students build and race balloon-powered cars
Nicole C.
Classroom teacher
Anthony C. Traina Elementary School
Tracy, CA
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My Grades 7, 8
My Subjects Science

Students will be able to:

  • create a balloon-powered racecar for maximum speed and distance
  • explain how their project relates to Newton's Laws of Motion
  • use the speed equation:  v = d/t
Grades 8
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Prerequisites

Activity: Other — What we have already studied

Curriculum: Glencoe Focus on Physical Science


Student Instructions

Prior to beginning the balloon-car project, students have already studied and been tested on Newton's 3 laws, and forces.

2 Team work: first attempt

Activity: Exploring

Click below to access my handouts...

Balloon Car Instruction Handout

Balloon Car Journal Cover

Time Frame: About 90 minutes [2 class periods]

Day 1:

The first class period was spent describing the requirements of the program including set-up time for Balloon Car Journals.

Materials Needed: 

  • Balloon car journals [my T.A.s folded and stapled the journal cover and 3 pieces of printer paper together for each student].
  • graph paper cut into smaller pieces
  • glue sticks
  • pen or pencil
  • handout with instructions 

Day 2:

The second class period was spent building and attempting to test a car. After seeing each team's drawings, I allowed students to go up and gather their supplies.  I monitored students as they built and took pictures of their creations.  I did not offer advice.  I ended the class with a conversation about  how today their real objective was to fail. [Yay! 23 out of 24 teams created a car that would not move]


  • I have an odd assortment of things for the students to look through and choose from. Some of these things include: CDs, straws, skewers, foam blocks, plastic lids, multiple kinds of tape, empty water bottles, and water bottle lids.
  • Racing lanes: made with blue painter's tape on the linoleum. [3 meters long with markings at each meter]
  • stop watches: 1 per group
  • balloons: 2 per group
Student Instructions

Day 1:

Students receive their balloon car journals and instructions.  They read over the instructions and are given time to ask questions.

Students finished creating their journals by adding their names, page numbers and titles on each page, and gluing graph paper to the graph pages.

Students were given a couple of minutes to look at the supplies provided [and feel those supplies if they desired]. 

Students used the remainder of class time working with their group to determine what design they would use.

Day 2:

The students were required to show me the drawing and materials list for their first car before they were allowed to gather their supplies.

They were given a 20 minute time limit to build a car.

Students then took turns attempting to make their car move.  If time permitted, students returned to their tables and made quick improvements.  Students were allowed to test their improved cars.

Students were required to take qualitative and quantitative data for their cars.  They were then asked to complete a reflection about why their car did not move.

3 Going Solo

Activity: Creating

The next step that I do is interview the students after they have had time to build and test their second cars.  

Each student [or partnership] is asked to come to the front of the room while the other students work on an individual activity.  

I ask to see their journals and ask them questions about their design and why they made specific changes.  

Student Instructions

Digital Step:  Students were required to research balloon-car designs [most students found helpful videos on YouTube]

Students were tasked with creating a second car based on their new knowledge.  They built and tested a second car while updating their journal.

Students then came up to have interviews about their vehicles.

4 Turning in the car

Activity: Assessing

I walked around inspecting each car to ensure that it was built in accordance with the directions. 

I also checked that journals were completed.  My students were not allowed to race their cars with the class if they did not have a completed journal and car.

I purchased edible prizes for these categories:

  • distance
  • speed
  • style
Student Instructions

Students work on their final reflection [click HERE]. 

Students worked on their reflection while I walked around.  After all cars were checked, the students put all of their cars on the counter.  Students walked around and voted for the 3 cars with the most "style".  The winning car from each class period won a prize. 

5 Race Day

Free, Free to Try, Paid

Race day is a lot of fun!

I tell students that they may create an Animoto video to boost their journal grade.  My students are familiar with Animoto and are able to use logins that I have created. 

We start the period with students racing in the classroom. Prior to students arriving, I push all of our tables to one side of the room and create 4 "Race Tracks" for students to use.  

After students have tested their cars indoors, we move outside to have the final races.  Any student may participate in the race for Speed and/or Distance.  

At the end of the period I give out the prizes.

Student Instructions

 They are each required to test their vehicle in order to complete their speed calculation. 

Students are permitted to use their devices to take pictures and/or video of their cars in action.  

Students are encouraged to compile this footage using Animoto for additional points towards their project.  

Click HERE to see an example.