Building a race car from a block of wood, wheels and nails for axles has come a long way since the first Pinewood Derby car sped down a homemade track more than 60 years ago. Since then, more than 100 million Cub Scouts have participated in this annual competition.
As a Cub Scout, I was uniquely unsuccessful in the pursuit of a Pinewood Derby ribbon my first year. My royal blue car was blocky and uneven, but was the epitome of a “boy led” effort. Even though it came in dead last, the experience and learning that first year did have some positive effects the following year, although I was still a long way from the finish line.
Now, at the rocket derby (similar to pinewood, but making wooden rockets powered by rubber bands that race down wires), my rocket was the same color and featured the same uneven construction, but it was a big winner until it hit the end blocks and, to my dismay, split in two! What I learned, though, was that the power of the rubber band significantly offset the non-aerodynamic shape of the rocket.
With my Pinewood Derby car, though, I found that aerodynamics, weight distribution, wheel balance and a host of other factors play a big role in success. At the time, I certainly didn’t appreciate the “STEM” learning objectives, but now, looking back – Wow! It’s amazing what Scouts really learn from the fun adventures in Scouting. As has been said, “Scouting is a game with a purpose.” So true.
The Pinewood Derby isn’t just about the fun of competing with friends. It’s a truly scientific affair. If you haven’t seen a Pinewood Derby track lately, many are now equipped with electronic finish line sensors. And when our Cub Scouts design their cars, they gain an understanding of how physics influences their performance on the track. Plus, unlike when I was a kid, our Scouts today have quick access to some terrific YouTube videos featuring pro tips from a former NASA engineer and other experts.
The Pinewood Derby is one of many ways we are incorporating elements of STEM education into Scouting. By presenting these valuable lessons in science, technology, engineering and math as an exhilarating, competitive day of racing, we have the opportunity to not just keep our kids interested in Scouting, but also teach them important skills that will benefit them later in life. What’s more, it’s an opportunity for the whole family to be involved and help build momentum and encouragement for our young children as they near the age of graduating from their Cub Scout dens into Boy Scout patrols and setting themselves on the path toward Eagle Scouts.
Pinewood Derby season is about to shift into high gear. If you have a Cub Scout participating, take a little time to discuss the science behind the event as you build your car together. There are several resources available here. I have a feeling that knowing your Scout learned a few things during the process will sweeten the outcome, win or lose.
Have a good approach to incorporating STEM education into your local Pinewood Derby activities? Feel free to share in the comments.
Thanks for reading.