Sail Car Design

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This activity (on page 3 of the PDF under GPS: Sailboat Design Activity) is a full inquiry investigation into design optimization. Groups of learners will construct a basic sail car out of a fast-food sandwich container, some wooden skewers, and cardboard wheels. Construction paper sails of various designs and other adjustments are made in the course of several trials to develop the fastest fan-propelled sail car. Relates to linked video, DragonflyTV GPS: Sailboat Design.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
2 to 4 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • fast-food sandwich container (Styrofoam or clear plastic)
  • wooden food skewers, approximately 6 inches long, 3 for each car
  • tape
  • stiff construction paper
  • scissors
  • clay
  • corrugated cardboard (from an unneeded box)
  • rubber bands, 1/4 inch wide, approximately 8 inches in circumference
  • pennies, to add weight to the car
  • stop watch
  • a household fan


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Transportation Engineering
    • Technology
      • Transportation
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Measurement
      • Rate
  • Physical Sciences
    • Energy
      • Energy and Power
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines
      • Momentum and Velocity
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • About Inquiry
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Research and Development
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Toys
  • Transportation


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • DragonflyTV


  • All rights reserved, Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., 2006

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, 515566