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Fifth graders defy the laws of gravity

Zoe Ruppe about to test her MAGLEV’s performance.

Article and photos by Kathy Dunker

American Academy’s (AA) Science Department Chair, Warren Aster, kept his fifth grade class busy this October. While studying the principles of magnetic levitation (MAGLEV), students applied the engineering design process in the development of a MAGLEV vehicle as part of the fifth grade science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) unit.

MAGLEV is a method by which an object is suspended with no support other than magnetic fields. Magnetic pressure is used to counteract the effects of the gravity. The goal of this project was to create a vehicle that would essentially float across a magnetic track as quickly as possible.

The components that students had available to them included a foam block, balsa wood, rubber bands, straws, small electric motor, a three or four prop propeller, wooden dowels, and magnets. Based on their design, teams choose the types and amounts of materials they needed for their vehicle.

During the engineering process, students performed tests and trials, collected data and used the information in the design and subsequent redesigns of their MAGLEV vehicle. The vehicles were then used in a MAGLEV racing competition that culminated the unit. During the competition, the student teams placed their final MAGLEV product on the magnetic track to test its speed in completing the length of the track.

Students needed to match the north pole of the magnet on their vehicle to the north pole of the magnet on the track and do the same with the south pole of the magnets. With correct spacing between magnets that matched the spacing of the magnets on the track, the repelling forces of the magnets on the track and the car pushed away from each other thus levitating the vehicle.

“It is a wonderful way to incorporate the engineering design process to our fifth graders while they explore real world STEM concepts and careers,” stated Aster. This hands on unit exposed AA students to career opportunities in the field of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and mathematics.

To learn more about AA’s STEM curriculum, visit their website at

AA fifth grade students Killian Ridder (left) and Carly Stordahl (right) paired up to create their MAGLEV vehicle.



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