Des Moines Middle Schoolers Race ‘Gourd-Karts’ for Science

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Merrill Middle School students race go-karts made out of gourds and other vegetables in their science class (WHO-HD/Reid Chandler)

Merrill Middle School students race go-karts made out of gourds and other vegetables in their science class (WHO-HD/Reid Chandler)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Keeping a middle schooler’s attention can be a tall order. Keeping their attention in a science class can be an even taller one. But one educator at Merrill Middle school has found a way to introduce his students to the concepts of physics, all while racing go-karts.

And these go-karts aren’t made of heavy machinery; they’re made of gourds.

“The idea came from a trip I took to California, where I saw students there racing these karts made out of fruits and vegetables for a science class project,” said Blake Hammond, a sixth-grade science teacher at Merrill. “It’s a way to get the kids active, and show them how scientists seek answers to questions.”

Hammond says the project has been, for the most part, entirely student-driven. Each student chose their own “gourd” (some are fruits, like a banana, and others are vegetables – but not gourds – like a potato). Then they had to build wheels and axels to put these “gourd-karts” in motion.

“The kids are loving it,” Hammond said. “And there are elements of physics in the design of these vehicles, but that wasn’t our main objective. So it’s nice to kind of get those extra concepts out of this fun project as a bonus.”

Students raced the gourd-karts in the middle school parking lot through the afternoon. While Hammond says there are no “winners”, the kart to go the longest distance does earn its place on a school record board.