It is probably no surprise that we chose a widely recognized car brand as the name for my son’s car: “Bentley.” Cub Scouts has this event every year and this year Bentley wanted to do the event again. One of the challenges in these events that require a lot of parent involvement is how much should a parent do and what should the child do?
This year I took a page from my science teaching mentor, Chuck Caley from Toledo, Washington. As a new teacher Chuck ran the Science Olympiad program at Toledo after school. He did all kinds of amazing engineering events. Watching him, as a new teacher, I thought he contributed too much to kids’ projects. Mentally I chided him, thinking that his sons would learn more if he did less. It took me several years to learn that my master teacher was right and I was wrong.
When children are given complex tasks to do they often see the objective as insurmountable. A good teacher will scale the task for students so they can achieve a piece at a time. A great teacher will scale the task as well as provide some modeling for students. Chuck was a great teacher (he retired June, 2013.) He did a lot of work with kids and, when they were out of ideas, did a lot of work for kids. But the results speak for themselves. Chuck’s two sons went into computer science. The first went into programming (if I recall correctly) and the second was applying for graduate studies in robotics the last time I talked to them.
These days I do as much as is needed to help capture Bentley’s interest. With the car I cut out the pieces, then we painted it: he painted it. The paint was accidentally an oil based paint that took 2 weeks to dry. After that we used an acrylic spray paint (grey as you can see above.) I painted it for him and he sanded it between coats. I did not know how much this was appropriate, but one day a couple friends came over and I noticed Bentley took them both out on the porch and showed them how he was sanding his car to make it very smooth.
That was a heart squeezer! He did not have the skills and ability to cut out the car on the band saw or to use spray paint to make a smooth coat, but he COULD sand; and he took that task to heart. I was so proud of him and based on that I saw that we hit the sweet spot on this project.
The day of the race I still had not put the wheels on. I had a plan, but I was ruminating on it and a bit afraid of the risk until, at the 11th hour, I had no choice but to get it done. These wood blanks for Pinewood derby cars have a groove in the bottom for the nail-axles. The problem with that design is that a bit of a knock, like a child dropping a car, causes the axle to mis-align and then the car does not work properly. We had that problem last year.
I decided to bore new axle holes. I think this is against the strict pinewood derby rules, but our program here permits more latitude. So I bored new axle holes about 1/4 inch above out outside the original axle grooves. I used a drill press and got them situated exactly right.
This proved to be an excellent idea. 10 minutes after going to the derby with his car, Bentley runs breathless into my office calling, “Dad! Dad!” Somehow his car had been damaged and one axle was SO bent that the wheel was tight against the side of the car and would not roll. Thankfully our engineered axle holes saved the day! I popped out the bent nail-axle, grabbed a new nail-axle and pounded it back into the hole. Since the holes are drilled, they were still perfectly aligned. So perfectly aligned, that with a little graphite lubricant and weighting it right to the 142 g maximum mass (141.7 g technically) with hot glue and washers, we created a winning vehicle. The winning-est vehicle that afternoon with a streak of wins and no losses. Wow! He even beat cars in dens ahead of him (the Webelos).