On a cloudy afternoon in November, Anne Fyffe’s 3rd grade class pulses with activity as students collaborate in small groups to meet her weekly Figure It Out Friday challenge. Some of the students try to talk through their ideas while others immediately begin tinkering with the toy cars and orange track segments used in this week’s lesson on gravity, force and motion. It’s all part of Round Rock ISD’s STEM curriculum for elementary students, supported by Hot Wheels Speedometry materials donated to the district by Mattel Children’s Foundation.
Vicky Arms, Elementary Science Curriculum Coordinator for the district, looks on in delight. “You don’t see a single kid checked out or not wanting to participate,” she says.
This up-close encounter with gravity wouldn’t be possible without the Mattel Children’s Foundation donation of 241 Speedometry kits and the work of district staffers like Arms and her colleagues, who took the foundation’s 183-page math and science curriculum for 4th grade students and adapted it for grades pre-K through 5, following the Texas curriculum standards.
Arms says she knew the kits would be more valuable to teachers if they had training to support the materials, so her team used the summer break to train 30 teachers and launched a STEM Leadership Academy that provides teachers with intensive study on what STEM means at the elementary level.
It’s an undertaking made possible by Mattel Children’s Foundation generosity, says Arms. “Mattel was so gracious. These kits have 40 cars each and over 100 pieces of track and connectors. We value each kit at around $150.” She estimates that the total value of the donation to the district is about $36,000.
Representatives for the toy company say they’ve distributed nearly 35,000 such kits across the country, with about 800 of them going to school districts in Texas.
The kits make a difference in the hands of students, says Fyffe.
“We did an experiment on Wednesday with the whole class on how height affects the speed of the car,” says Fyffe. “It was very interesting. Everyone knew that gravity was making the car go down, but a lot of them thought it was a pushing force. It was a great discussion.”
Friday’s challenge makes them use their newfound knowledge, says Fyffe. Third-grade student Yuta enthusiastically explains. “We’re not supposed to be using our hands to make it go,” he says. “You’re trying to find out something to make the car move with force.”
Fyffe says she’ll extend the lesson on Monday. “We have a science notebook, and we’ll write a reflection about what their thought process was, how it went and any challenges they had.”
Arms hopes the kits have use outside the classroom, as well. She encourages schools to use the kits for STEM nights, STEAM fairs, science nights and instant maker spaces. She also wants to see students boost the exercise at home.
“Mattel has a plethora of resources on their website that parents can do with their children,” she says, adding that anyone can buy the cars and track at their local retailer. “You can walk down any toy aisle and see these things.”