Conservation of Energy Using Hot Wheels

Wake Forest University - Science Education Activities for English Language Learners
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This resource requires students to use Conservation of Energy to determine the height a Hot Wheels car must be released from in order to complete a loop-the-loop. This resource does not teach the Law of Conservation of Energy, but it does require students to use it to determine the speed needed for a Hot Wheels car to complete a loop-the-loop. The resource contains worksheets for the students as well as a teacher’s guide. This resource has some modifications mentioned for English Language Learners, although it is appropriate for all students.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-PS3-1 Create a computational model to calculate the change in the energy of one component in a system when the change in energy of the other component(s) and energy flows in and out of the system are known.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explaining the meaning of mathematical expressions used in the model.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to basic algebraic expressions or computations; to systems of two or three components; and to thermal energy, kinetic energy, and/or the energies in gravitational, magnetic, or electric fields.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
To fully meet the Performance Expectation, the instructor would need to modify the resource to require the students to create the computational model using gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Except for having students develop a model, this resource meets the Practice.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The resource fully meets this Disciplinary Core Idea because the students need to calculate the gravitational potential energy as well as the kinetic energy of a car and use these calculations to determine the speed needed for a Hot Wheels car to complete a loop-the-loop.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The resource fully addresses the Cross Cutting Concept of Energy, although the instructor may wish to have a class discussion about the role friction plays in the Law of Conservation of Energy. The resource has the students keep increasing the height they release their car from until it makes it around the loop. The instructor should hold a class discussion to tie this to friction to make sure that the students understand that friction is reducing the amount of useful mechanical energy that is converted to kinetic energy.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource embraces multiple Practices. The Practice of Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking is addressed because it requires students to use algebra to solve the scientific problem of the velocity needed by a Hot Wheels car to complete a loop-the-loop. The Practice of Developing and Using Models is partially addressed because students are required to use the model of Conservation of Energy to determine the velocity of the Hot Wheels car. This resource embraces the Core Ideas of Definitions of Energy and Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer. In this activity, students are using a moving car on a track and energy calculations in their analysis to determine the speed needed for a Hot Wheels car to complete a loop-the-loop. This resource addresses the Cross Cutting Concepts of Systems and System Models and Energy and Matter by requiring students to use the equations associated with gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy to calculate the velocity needed for a Hot Wheels car to complete a loop-the-loop.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource has been modified to support English Language Learners by color coding the diagrams (if viewed online) and including a glossary. These same modifications make it a wonderful resource for any student. It includes a solution key for the instructor.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The resource does not allow for much monitoring during the activity. The instructor may wish to add some pre-activity questions or discussion items to the activity. For example, the instructor could have students complete a pre-lab homework assignment based on the lab activity in which they must perform the calculations they will be conducting in the lab activity. This could be used as the basis for a class discussion before the lab is performed so that the instructor can assess student understanding and offer any additional instruction before proceeding with the lab.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not use technology.