How Fast is Fast?

This is a detailed STEM lesson in which students work as a team to measure the distance and time a toy car travels down a ramp.  Includes: rubric, video, formative assessment, ideas on integrating Math concepts. This website includes teaching strategies, misconceptions, and extension activities. When you click on the website, you will receive an "open with" prompt, find Adobe and the website will open.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
GLE 0407.11.3
Investigate the relationship between the speed of an object and the distance traveled during a certain time period.
GLE 0601.7.3
Recognize how visual and sound techniques and design elements (e.g., special effects, camera angles, music) carry or influence messages in various media.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Differentiation suggestions: 

Differentiated Instructions:

Calculators may be used as needed.

Students may be grouped homogeneously by skill levels, and more advanced students may be

given an opportunity to work more independently of the teacher. The teacher may position the

groups of students who require more assistance fairly close together, so it will be easy to keep

an eye on them and provide assistance as needed.

Throughout this investigation, as the teacher circulates the room to assure that all teams are on

task, assistance should be provided only as needed. This can happen seamlessly as students

are given individual assistance to read word problems and as they consider and perform the

related math processes. Guiding or probing questions can prompt students to deeper thinking

during the investigation.

As students complete the Animal Speed Formative Assessment, they should work in small

teams of 3-5. They may be regrouped from the earlier investigation so team teaching/peer

tutoring can occur, but the teacher should be careful that this does not result in a student/s simply

doing the work for the other students on a team.

Differentiation may occur when measuring distance as some students use more precise

centimeter or millimeter measurements. They might also be encouraged to think about how

precise their answer should be when considering the tool that was used to measure.

Distinguished students may use Significant Digits and Figures in their answers on the Speed

Data Table. Teachers may also visit this site for a review of the rules for significant digits. 

Extension suggestions: 

The class will return to the book, What’s Faster Than a Speeding Cheetah? A concrete

foundation based on experiential learning will have been laid at this point, and students may be

able to expand the idea to things they cannot see to measure. The teacher will focus on the

measurement that is listed for the speed of light in the book, and the class will discuss what they

know about sound and light, possibly from earlier science lessons. They will consider which is

faster, sound or light? They will discuss how they can determine the answer to the question.

The answer can be found and the concepts can be reinforced with simulations that are available

on the internet (How Far Away Is It?) and apps that are available for cell phones, iPods, iPads,

etc. (Flash Boom). And if an authentic teachable moment occurs, students can use their

knowledge and the ability to count Mississippis to calculate the distance to lightning and thunder

events in real time.

See also, Echolocation, a simulation will explain how sound travels, is reflected, and causes an


Helpful Hints


  • assorted toy cars (or balls- Anything that can be rolled down a ramp and across a floor may be used for this investigation.) The number of cars given to each team will depend on the number available and how much time can be devoted to the investigation. The more cars a team has, the more time it will take for them to collect their data. 
  • measuring tapes, heavy cords, meter sticks of assorted sizes, as well as devices that would be inappropriate for measuring distance and time. A selection of these materials should be available, so students can make choices of which devices they will use to measure. The idea is to make students think about how to complete the task, not simply to follow the very specific directions that are given to them. They should determine which items are the best choices for the assignment that is given.
  • stop watch or other device to measure time (one per group). A clock, with a second hand, displayed in the classroom or hallway may serve the same purpose if it can be seen by all the teams as they work.
  • ramp and object to be used to prop up one end of the ramp (one per team)
  • Speed Data Tables (one per group) If plastic race tracks from Hot Wheels® or similar toys are available, they may be used. (Sometimes these can be picked up at yard sales fairly inexpensively J) If not, boards may be propped onto to stacks of books. The playground slide may also serve this purpose. $ave yourself some money, use what you have.
  • clipboards (optional- one per group)
  • pencils