A mousetrap car is a model car made from simple materials that is powered by a mousetrap. Mousetrap cars can be made from cardboard or balsa wood with CD’s for wheels and axles of wood or brass tubing. Power to drive the wheels is provided by a mousetrap to which a wand and string is attached to the snap arm. Winding the string around the axle pulls back the snap arm and releasing the snap arm pulls the string, turning the wheels. Because of their simplicity, low cost and the nearly endless variation of ways to build a mousetrap car, they are a great project to help youth learn about engineering design and conducting investigations. They are also an excellent Maker project with the potential for participating in a design-build-race contest.
This curriculum guide is for 4-H leaders, teachers, afterschool professionals other educators and volunteers to offer a fun Maker type project for youth that teaches engineering design and investigation skills while building a working mousetrap car suitable for racing. The curriculum is split into two separate tracks that allow the mentor to focus on specific learning goals for the youth. Track 1 explores the engineering design process and gives youth the freedom to build a car of their own design and work to test and improve its design. This track takes slightly less time and results in more diverse car designs. Track 2 focuses on building and using a standard mousetrap car to test different variables that affect a car’s performance. In addition to exploring the engineering design process, this track helps youth learn how to plan and conduct investigations. Both tracks 1 and 2 end with the potential to design a high performance mousetrap racer and hold a distance challenge contest. Read the complete track descriptions below to see which track meets your goals. If time is not a limiting factor, then tracks 1 and 2 complement each other and may be taught in sequence.