Engineering Bumpers and NGSS

May 1, 2015

Looking for an activity to incorporate NGSS standards and engineering principles?

Using PASCO’s technology tools such as PASPORT sensors and SPARKvue® software, students will be able to quickly design experiments, collect data, and effectively apply and understand scientific and engineering practices.

Here's a quick breakdown of how PASCO sensors and equipment can help meet NGSS requirements:

NGSS Performance Expectations and PASCO Sensors and Apparatus - Elementary School

NGSS Performance Expectations and PASCO Sensors and Apparatus - Middle School

A practical example of incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS*) is an application of Newton’s Third Law. In this performance expectation, students apply Newton’s Third Law to design a solution to a problem that involves the motion of two colliding objects. One application of this performance expectation is to have students design bumpers and test their effectiveness with a Force Sensor.


Newton’s Third Law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means that when we push or pull an object, the object pulls or pushes with the same amount of force as we do. The application of the force, however, is in the opposite direction to the force we are applying.

To investigate this concept, use a Force Sensor, a Cart and Track, and a Collision Bracket. The bumpers that your students design can be made from materials you have on hand in the classroom. Suggested materials are paper, clay, rubber stoppers, packing peanuts, pipettes, and springs. Students may need scissors to design the bumpers and tape to fasten them to the carts.

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Before designing their bumpers, students will need to observe this concept in action, so they can appreciate the interaction of forces in a collision. They can experience this by joining two Force Sensors together (using a rubber band or spring) and alternately pulling the sensors apart and then relaxing them, so the sensors come back together again. Plotting the measurement of the pull of one sensor and the push of the other on a multi-y line graph produces a graph that looks like this.

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Students benefit from this experience as they see in real-time how the forces that are involved are both opposite but equal to one another. Using the analysis tools provides additional evidence for this concept, as students will note that the minimum force exerted by one Force Sensor is the maximum force exerted by the other. Once students understand this foundational principle, they are ready to work with the cart and track.  

First, have students attach the bracket to the end of the track. Next, have them attach the Force Sensor with the rubber bumper attachment to the bracket. Then set the track on a slight incline, so that the cart will roll into the Force Sensor. The collision is a sudden event, so set SPARKvue’s sampling rate to 200 Hz. Once this is done, students can collect data as the car rolls down the ramp and hits the Force Sensor. 

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SPARKvue software allows students to analyze their data and to write notes on each data run. With no bumper the force of the collision was 20.6 N. At this point students will be eager to build their bumpers, but it is a good idea to have them describe how Newton’s Third Law is shown by the event, which will bring to mind the disciplinary core idea they are exploring. At this point in the experiment, SPARKvue’s assessment tools can help you check student understanding.

Now the fun begins! Students will design and test bumpers to see how they perform. The goal for their bumper, as it is for car and truck bumpers, is to reduce the impact force, which reduces the chance of injury and lessens damage to the vehicle. Bumpers that reduce the maximum force below that of using no bumper should be considered successful.

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Since data collection with sensors is quick, students will have time to test a variety of materials, and they can even make improvements on their designs. Giving students time to reflect on how effective their bumpers are and the opportunity to rebuild and test their new designs is also an effective way to address the engineering standards in the NGSS. 

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* Next Generation Science Standards is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards was involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product.