My best lesson - Blaze a trail in science with snail racing

1st November 2013 at 00:00

One of my best-ever lessons involved snail racing. This was a wonderful opportunity to combine summer sunshine with biology (snails), physics (speed) and a bit of fun.

My 11- and 12-year-old students collected around 100 snails from "snail city", an area of local heath where the magnificent molluscs hang out on clumps of juicy horseradish leaves.

Back on the school field, each group of students was asked to pick a snail. The race track consisted of a plastic tray, and to make the snails race we used the sun's heat from behind and a giant horseradish leaf in front.

Speed would be calculated by taking the distance travelled (25cm) and dividing it by the time it took each snail to complete the course. Volunteers were given stopwatches to time each race.

Once each snail had been placed on the starting line, the students gathered around the track and the race began. Some snails stubbornly refused to race and retreated into their shells, while others veered sideways and had to be set back on track. Some went backwards, some fell off the edge. The more adventurous molluscs crawled on top of one another and began to mate.

Thankfully, many snails did complete the course. The first race was won by a giant gastropod called Baldrick, who crossed the finishing line in 112 seconds. After three races, it was discovered that the fastest snail had travelled 25cm in 100 seconds - a decent speed of 0.25cmsecond, but not a serious challenge to Usain Bolt.

So what did the students learn from the snail race? They learned to calculate speed, how a mollusc is adapted for movement and how to work together competitively. But above all they learned that, irrespective of one's ability or gender, science can be interesting and fun.

Stan Labovitch is a recently retired science teacher from London, England.

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