Put the Pedal to the Metal! Building a thing helps us understand how it works!

Chloe has begun assembling her model of the rack-and-pinion mechanism used to drive automobile windshield wipers.

We’ve embarked on an enormously fun excursion into hands-on learning with How Cars Work, which pairs lucid, kid-intelligible explanations of how key parts of modern cars function with instructions on how to put scale models of the same thingamajigs together using the cardboard components and plastic nuts and bolts included with the book.

In the image that crowns this post, you can see Chloe roughly a third of a way through the assembly of her rack and pinion, the mechanism underlying the back-and-forth motions of windshield wipers (and, in many cars, the steering as well). Here’s Olivia’s finished rack-and-pinion model in action: Olivia's model rack-and-pinion in action.

Going from parts to a finished model is a piece of cake. As you may be able to tell by glancing at the left-hand side of the following snapshot of Olivia’s desktop taken just a couple of minutes earlier, How Cars Work comes with easy-to-follow instructions and all of the parts are clearly labelled:

Olivia fastening the pinion of her rack-and-pinion in place.

During last week’s class, we read a brief introduction to the idea that cars are assembled from a large number of relatively simple mechanisms, learned about three of the kinds of motion (linear, rotary, and reciprocating) used to drive them, and everyone assembled their first model and put it through its paces before reading the text-based description of the rack and pinion and its highly-visible role in keeping visibility high.

Chloe reading about linear, rotary, and reciprocating motion.

For homework, each student had to work through the subsequent chapter, describing car engines, and put together the accompanying model of a valve. This week, we’re going to be tackling the chapters on pistons and the accelerator (aka the gas pedal)!