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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Ultimate Train Car Challenge

Railway trains are one of the most eco-friendly ways to travel from one location to another, carrying people and goods to faraway places. Let’s celebrate National Train Day on May 13, a day that recognizes these powerful transportation machines that have shaped so much of history. Get ready to roll as a conductor of creativity by designing the ultimate train car!


Materials Needed

  • Cardboard box (shoe box, small shipping box)
  • Craft supplies (aluminum foil, pipe cleaners, construction paper, craft sticks, pony beads, etc.)
  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Recyclables (cereal boxes, plastic bottles, etc.)
  • Scissors
  • Tape


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Many passenger trains have sleeper cars that offer modern conveniences like ventilation, reclining seats, beds and even restrooms! If possible, do a quick internet safe search to see what already exists in a sleeper car.
  2. If you had to travel long distance on a train, think about what you would want in your sleeper car. What would you want to bring to keep you comfortable?
    • Perhaps a TV to watch your favorite shows?
    • Maybe a comfortable lounge chair to take a nap?
    • How about a compact refrigerator to keep your food and drinks cold?
  3. Brainstorm ideas for innovative furniture or other types of technology and jot them down.
  4. Build a prototype of your miniature sleeper car using your imagination and all the materials you gathered! Start with your cardboard box and use the craft supplies and recyclables to add all your innovative furniture and technology ideas.
  5. Share your train car prototype with a family member or friend, and describe all the amazing features you created.


What Are We Discovering?

A prototype is a model of an invention and is an essential part of ideation. When developing something new, a prototype is helpful when communicating your big ideas to others. Describing your prototype and talking through its features can demonstrate how it can be used.

Thanks to outstanding innovator Olive Dennis, we now have trains that include some of the conveniences and comforts we might find in our own homes. Dennis worked as a research engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In 1928, she received a patent for a ventilator that improved air quality in rail cars, allowing passengers to control airflow without the need to open windows. Additionally, she was instrumental in helping design the Cincinnatian — a train packed with innovations including individually reclining seats and easy-to-clean surfaces.


Keep The Fun and Learning Going!

For more fun, hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities for your family to explore, check out our blog!

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