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Paper cones falling to ground.

Design for Safety activity C2. Paper cones are used to model how well-designed vehicles absorb some of the energy from crashes.

Activity C2: Crumple zones [ZIP, 307 KB]

How to use this activity

This activity explores how we can apply what we know about vehicles and sudden impacts to reduce the potential harm to passengers.

Students use a template to make a cone shape.  They carry out multiple tests dropping the cone, then measuring the amount of deformation of the cone.

Trialing multiple heights and weights shows patterns about the relationship between speed and weight on impact. You could prepare the classroom for this by marking a 1m, 1.5m and 2.0m height mark around the walls for groups to use as a release point.

Why use paper cones?

Paper cones in this activity represent crumple zones, which are a safety feature of all modern vehicles. Crumple zones are designed to control sudden deceleration to the front and rear of a vehicle leaving the occupant compartment to decelerate more slowly.
Find out more:
Safety features: structure (Rightcar)(external link)

Discuss the investigation design with students.

  • What stays the same? What changes?
  • Are all trials being carried out the same way?
  • Are we measuring in the same way?

Through class discussion, encourage the students to see patterns in the results of their investigations.

Are they able to identify and describe the pattern or relationship between weight and impact?

Where it fits in the New Zealand Curriculum

Nature of Science strand

Investigating in Science – exploring, predicting, defining, analysing.

  • Science activities can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science sub strands.
  • Identify aspects of Investigating in Science that your students need to get better at or understand more fully.
  • Then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.

NZ Curriculum | Science achievement objectives(external link)

Capability focus

Critique Evidence. 

The five science capabilities (TKI - Science online)(external link)

Contextual strand

Physical World, Achievement Objective: explore, describe and represent patterns and trends for everyday examples of physical phenomena, such as movement, forces etc.

Big science idea

Crumple zones can slow down how quickly an object loses movement energy.


Some of the energy of impact can be absorbed by good design.

Capability concepts

  • Investigations need to be reliable and robust (control variables, repeat trials).
  • Scientists often ask critical questions about how reliable an investigations method is.
  • Strong claims are made from strong evidence.

Possible learning objectives

The students can…

  • discuss steps taken to make their investigations reliable and robust
  • explain what happens to energy in a sudden impact
  • identify and describe patterns in crumple zone investigations.
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