Hands-on Activity: Energy Storage Derby and Proposal

Contributed by: VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University

Quick Look

Grade Level: 11 (9-12)

Time Required: 2 hours 30 minutes

(three 50-minute classes)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $1.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Science and Technology

A small four-wheeled energy storage car on linoleum floor. Looks like the car has a curved mast made from a fishing pole with wire attaching it to the car.
Example car design with cantilever potential energy storage.
Copyright © 2006 Vanderbilit University


Students design, build and test small-sized vehicle prototypes that transfer various types of potential energy into motion. To complete the Go Public phase of the legacy cycle, students demonstrate their understanding of how potential energy may be transferred into kinetic energy.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Alternative energy sources, particularly within the realm of transportation, have become a hot topic within the scientific and engineering communities. It seems that everyone would like to have available vehicles that provide safe, efficient and reliable methods of capturing a form of energy and transferring it to kinetic energy. Currently available methods are gas-electric hybrids, gas-hydraulic fluid hybrids, electric, and compressed gas. Throughout the unit, students apply the scientific concepts they learn to the real-world problem of designing and implementing energy sources for transportation.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Apply the law of conservation of energy physical problems in one dimension.
  • Describe the engineering design, test and redesign process.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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This Performance Expectation focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

Alignment agreement:

At the macroscopic scale, energy manifests itself in multiple ways, such as in motion, sound, light, and thermal energy.

Alignment agreement:

Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

Alignment agreement:

Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be quantified to the extent possible and stated in such a way that one can tell if a given design meets them.

Alignment agreement:

Energy cannot be created or destroyed—it only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

Alignment agreement:

Modern civilization depends on major technological systems. Engineers continuously modify these technological systems by applying scientific knowledge and engineering design practices to increase benefits while decreasing costs and risks.

Alignment agreement:

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  • Energy resources can be renewable or nonrenewable. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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  • Established design principles are used to evaluate existing designs, to collect data, and to guide the design process. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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  • Energy cannot be created nor destroyed; however, it can be converted from one form to another. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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  • Requirements involve the identification of the criteria and constraints of a product or system and the determination of how they affect the final design and development. (Grades 9 - 12 ) More Details

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Materials List

Each group needs 2 rolls of pennies to serve as vehicle payload. For the rest of the materials, students must decide and find the other parts of their small-sized prototype vehicles as homework.

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/van_hybrid_design_activity4] to print or download.

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High School Lesson

Pre-Req Knowledge

Students should be familari with the concepts of Hooke's law and the conservation of energy.


Remember back to the first lesson from this unit when I said that you would be building your our hybrid cars for Nissan? Now that we have learned about the different types of energy, and how they are converted and conserved, and we have learned a little more about hybrid cars, you are better equipped to design your own cars! Let's do it.


Divide the class into groups of three or four students each.

Overview: Each group will design, build and present a proposal for a vehicle energy-storage mechanism that translates stored energy into forward motion. Any type of potential energy is acceptable for the proposal except chemical, nuclear and RC (remote controlled). All energy sources and peripherals must be on board the vehicle.

Engineering requirements: Your prototype small-scaled vehicles must be able to carry 250 g (2 rolls of pennies) a length of 5 meters. You will be graded based on the distance traveled, how close to the target you stop, how quickly you can carry the 250 g mass 5 meters (power), and your team presentation (3-5 minutes, must include performance graphs).

Refer to the steps of the engineering design process to guide you in your groups when you are designing and testing your vehicles:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Research the problem.
  3. Brainstorm possible solutions.
  4. Select the best solution.
  5. Construct a prototype.
  6. Test the design.
  7. Improve the design.
  8. Communicate the design.

The problem has been defined for them in this activity, and they have spent this unit researching the problem. Now, it's time to begin by brainstorming solutions. Students communicate their designs through their vehicle performance, presentations and brochures.


Rubric: This open-ended, design-based activity incorporates engineering design concepts as well as marketing concepts. For grading, refer to the attached example rubric, modifying it for what is important to the teacher. Give students the rubric at the start of the activity.

Formal/Informal: Incorporate both formal and informal assessment methods. Take into account vehicle performance during the derby. Consider students' ability to answer questions posed by the teacher regarding the performance and cost during the proposal stage. Informal questioning gives students a chance to apply and exhibit their understanding of the objectives and concepts in ways other than tests and quizzes.

Brochures: As an additional assessment, require groups to create brochures that include performance data and cost analyses as part of their presentations.


Joel Daniel (funded by the NSF-funded Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power at the University of Minnesota); Megan Johnston


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2006 Vanderbilt University

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, School of Engineering, Vanderbilt University


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 22, 2019


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