Schools compete in everything these days. From sports to music to dance to math, your local school probably has teams practicing for battle. The competitive spirit extends to science and engineering, too. Kids design robots, they fly drones; they build solar-powered race cars, all with their eyes on winning a contest somewhere.
Some schools have teams of kids working on building better mousetraps, not to catch rodents, but to race across a gym floor. How does that work? Mousetrap cars are actually a thing.
"You have one constraint, one mousetrap, that's it, what can you do with this mousetrap?" explains science teacher Diana Dworzan of Apollo Middle School in Hollywood.
The kids build cars using a mousetrap, CD's for wheels, with balloon shreds for tires. A string is attached from the trap's spring to an axle.
"Basically, when the spring goes back it stores potential energy, when you let go of the spring it snaps and lets out kinetic energy," said 6th-grade student Hailey Diaz, explaining the propulsion system.
There's actually a national competition for mousetrap cars, in Alabama, and the team from Apollo Middle is going.
"It's actually really exciting, like we're all ecstatic, it's amazing," Hailey told us.
The process of building, designing and racing the cars is hands-on learning.
"Something that they're learning in class in the abstract, they get to apply it through mousetraps," Dworzan said.
There's a ton of physics involved.
"You have to design it to be aerodynamic, you also have to think about friction, like in Newton's first law, an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, that would be friction," Hailey said.
In Apollo's STEM program, the kids come to school early and stay late to indulge in their passions, including flying drones. They learn how to fly and program them, and they, too, compete against other schools' drone teams.
The students here also build underwater robots, learning concepts of engineering in the process, such as weight and drag. One student told us it's just like aeronautics except it's under water.
The idea is exposure. The teachers and principal want to show kids the possibilities of science and engineering. They're also pleased that so many girls are so into it.
"It energizes them, they're not sitting in a classroom having a teacher lecture to them and taking notes, they're actually able to put their hands on what they're doing, and they actually get to see the fruits of their labor and it excites them," said Principal Shawn Aycock. "We're a Title One school, 82% of my kids are on free or reduced lunch, and these competitions really give them an opportunity to shine and show that they can do just about anything."
Maybe building a better mousetrap isn't all that matters. It's trying, and trying, again and again which makes the difference.