Utilizing the Design Process to Make Pasta Rovers

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Using only pasta and glue, Winthrop Avenue fourth-grade students in Christopher Merz’s class designed pasta rovers using the same design process utilized by Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineers. The goal of the project was to see whether the students’ vehicle designs could travel down a one-meter ramp, as well as an additional meter, on a smooth, flat surface.

Students first had to brainstorm their designs and sketch their concepts for a pasta rover on paper. Each team was allotted a $60 million budget and were charged for each piece of pasta utilized in the design. For example, a piece of lasagna totaled $10 million, while a piece of penne, ziti or rigatoni cost $4 million. 

After the pasta rovers were built, the students used stop watches to measure the time their vehicle was in transit and the distance traveled down the ramp. Using dimensional analysis, they converted their findings to the rate at which their rover traveled in miles per hour. 

Like true scientists and engineers, the students completed the assignment by discussing and documenting the factors which contributed to their success, as well as ways in which to improve their designs.