Sometimes learning and playing look awfully similar.

Take, for example, Mantachie fifth graders’ science class last week. In order to learn a bit about basic mechanics, students were given toys cars … the kind when pulled backwards and released roll forward. Fun, right?

The only caveat: The students had to build the things themselves.

Here’s how the project worked: Throughout the day, groups of fifth grade students worked in pairs to build pull-back brick cars — think LEGOs with a few working parts. The cars came disassembled (very much so; there were dozens of little bricks and pieces), and students had to piece them together following some basic instructions. Once the cars were built, students were able to race them.

Sure, it may sound like fun and games, but there was a lot of science behind the one-off class. First and foremost, the object of the class was to give students a breakdown of simple machines and a practical demonstration of how potential energy works — friction (in this case, pulling back on the car) being used to create energy, which is stored within an object (the “motor” of the car). This stored energy can then be used to make that object do something — for instance, make the car race forward once released. It’s a simple, fun demonstration of something students learn in the classroom.

“We’re trying to teach them with some hands-on learning,” explained Mantachie fifth-grade teacher Teri Rhodes, adding that the short course is equally about teamwork and problem-solving.

“To me, it’s more about teamwork and collaboration than anything else,” Rhodes said.

And if there’s a little fun and excitement to be had in the process … well, that’s a nice bonus.

“It’s fun,” said Bailee Caples of the project, digging through a small pile of bricks to find the piece she needed. “It’s kind of like a puzzle.”

Her partner, Larissa Lemons, agreed. She said she enjoyed the process of piecing the vehicle together, discovering how everything fit together to create the whole.

“It’s like a scavenger hunt,” she said.

Both girls agreed that working on the vehicle was challenging, but fun. This seemed to be the consensus of the class.

After the class, each student was able to take home a car, too. Just in case they wanted to do some more “learning” at home.

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