Hot Wheels Help Get #ForceoftheFuture Into STEM

By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Toy cars took center stage at a Military Child Education Coalition seminar in Washington, D.C., yesterday. While it was a good time for the kids involved, the lessons they inadvertently learned were the real point.

The workshop on Speedometry challenged children to experiment with Hot Wheels on speed bumps, loops and ramps, which taught them science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, concepts.

About to test out a Speedometry racetrack. DoD News photo

About to test out a Speedometry racetrack. DoD News photo

“That’s a key thing: They’re learning more than they know they’re learning,” said Fred Freking, associate professor of clinical education at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Speedometry was created with education researchers and toymaker Mattel to help get kids interested in STEM through good old fashioned Hot Wheels fun. The kids use critical thinking, collaboration and scientific practices to build real-world problem-solving skills.

“There’s a challenge to create a track that’s going to make the car go further. You look in that room, and they’ve got chairs on top of tables and tracks going all over the place,” Freking said. “Their creativity in creating and changing models based on their experiences was amazing.”

U.S. Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn talks Speedometry with kids at a Military Child Education Coalition seminar on July 30, 2015. Photo courtesy MCEC photographer Susan Connolly

U.S. Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn talks Speedometry with kids at a Military Child Education Coalition seminar on July 30, 2015. Photo courtesy MCEC photographer Susan Connolly

While the Speedometry curriculum is designed for fourth-grade students, others also took part, and several of them shared their experiences with a panel of military and corporate leaders afterward. One student named Katie said her group tested cars of varying weights, lengths and shapes on tracks they had to modify several times.

“You have to keep changing and testing to find out your actual conclusion, and that’s what I think is fun about science,” she said.

“It is a very good way to learn how aerodynamics work with speed and weight and mass and other things,” said a student named Christian, whose projects also had to be modified repeatedly.

Learning to fail and continue on was an important lesson.

“I think what we saw was the ability of our youth to innovate — to discover solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, who was on the Speedometry panel. “In the U.S. Army, we’re all about leaders who can innovate to solve problems, so I’d say we’ve got some future soldiers right in front of us.”

The kids were enthralled by the science of Speedometry. DoD News photo

The kids were enthralled by the science of Speedometry. DoD News photo

Allyn said it’s critical that the U.S. expand kids’ interest levels in STEM education to create adaptive leaders, especially when it comes to the Force of the Future initiative, which has a focus on cybersecurity and in-the-field technology. One example he gave was app technology that soldiers currently use on a smartphone-like device called Nett Warrior.

“It can pass critical intelligence. It can provide enough data about the terrain that [a soldier] is about to go over. It can enable him to very quickly send a situation report back just by hitting a couple of toggles on the smartphone instead of having to stop, write a report and send a messenger back 100 miles like they used to have to do in the old days,” Allyn said.

The general also told the kids about how his role as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division made him learn about weight, acceleration, wind and gravity — important things to know when you’re trying not to crash-land.

Kids build a racetrack at the Speedometry workshop. DoD News photo

Kids build a racetrack at the Speedometry workshop. DoD News photo

“The variable you can’t control is your body weight … so the primary way of avoiding a hard landing is turning to the wind,” Allyn explained. “I learned as a very young leader that this application of physics in the real world [is important]. When I was studying that in high school and college, I wasn’t much interested in it, but when I started applying it on drop zones all around the world, it really sunk in.”

“You’re all at the age where you have an opportunity to learn analytics skills — science and math that you were starting to learn today,” Coast Guard Vice Adm. Sandra Stosz, another panel member, told the kids. “That will allow you to be a part of something way bigger than yourselves and will be important work when you’re adults.”

One key point the panel gave: Parents need to let their kids experiment so they can problem-solve for themselves.

Zoom! A Hot Wheels car shoots out of a Speedometry racetrack loop. DoD News photo

Zoom! A Hot Wheels car shoots out of a Speedometry racetrack loop. DoD News photo

“I think we, as parents, want structure, but we also have to let them play a little bit to figure stuff out,” Freking said.

Speedometry is a free curriculum that teachers can bring to their classrooms. All they have to do is go to hotwheels.com/en-us/speedometry.html and download the correct curriculum for their school. Parents can use it, too; the website also offers family activities to download.

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