Electric Cars Create Jolt of Excitement in Huntsville, AL

There was a buzz in the air Saturday, October 31, at Whitesburg P-8, where student-built electric cars took to the track for 90 minutes to determine which team of young minds engineered the best vehicle.

The cars are part of a dynamic curriculum, called GreenpowerUSA, that challenges students aged 9-25 to apply S.T.E.M.-based thinking to the task of building and racing an electric car.

The Greenpower race

The Green Grizzlies at the Green Power Race

CROSS CURRICULAR GOALS 

Siemens, a global software company with an office in Huntsville, AL, brought the Greenpower program to the U.S. Siemens’ motives are practical. “Obviously, we’re in it because we’re engineers and we want our kids using our software but we’re seeing more and more [that] the big thing they get out of it is the ‘soft’ skills,” says Bill McClure, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Siemens. And the number one soft skill cited by students is teamwork.

Julie Folsom, whose daughter created a racecar with Chaffee Elementary, extols the virtues of the program: “We’re completely new to this but I love it. The kids have to decide what materials to use to make it more aerodynamic, what would affect the weight, what driver would be best depending on the size of the driver, the weight of the driver, the driver’s skills.”

Greenpower racer

The Greenpower program is diverse

DIVERSITY

The program attracts students of every ability and gender. According to Julie Folsom, almost all the fourth and fifth graders in her daughter’s school applied to be part of the Greenpower team. 35% of Greenpower’s participants are female, making it the highest female-participated engineering project.

“We can’t ignore 50% of the population!” says Michael Brown, Director of Academic Relations at Siemens.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Teams assemble their cars using a kit.
  • The only power source allowed is (2) 12-volt batteries, forcing teams to calculate optimal speed/energy efficiency.
  • Teams present their work in a formal setting.
  • In the scrutineering phase, technical experts from organizations such as the Sports Car Club of America check cars for rule compliance and safety.
  • Attention to detail is key. Simple mistakes such as misaligned wheels, incorrectly inflated tires, loose bolts, or rubbing brakes drain power. Too many errors will cost them the race.

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INHERENT LEARNING

“The students are learning without even realizing it,” Michael Brown explains. “Let’s talk about the Goblins. You might think that’s just a ‘costume project.’ But even at ages 9, 10, and 11 they learn about ‘righty-tighty’ and ‘lefty-lucy.’ You know, nuts and bolts. They also learn Fleming’s left hand rule – how an electric motor works. Now they don’t know they’re learning it, but when they wire up the car, if they wire the motor up the wrong way round, when they press the button, the car goes backwards.”

IMG_1870Pictured (L-R): Robert Clarke, President, Sports Car Club of America, Pro Racing; Michael Brown, Director of Academic Relations, Siemens; Bill McClure, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Siemens, enjoy a day of student racing at the Whitesburg track.

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