Students at seven Chattanooga area schools are building electric vehicles for a spring competition aimed at teaching them design and engineering.
A local nonprofit organization, green|spaces, sent participating schools a kit with materials and instructions, but it was up to the students to build the cars and find ways to make them faster than their competition.
"It's all about exposing kids to engineering," Japho Hardin, the Howard School teacher overseeing the project, said. " I gave them directions, taught them some safety instructions and let them do it."
Hardin's Introduction to Engineering and Design class, made up of juniors, is competing. The class has about a dozen students interested in engineering and other STEM subjects. Through the project, the students have used both mechanical and electrical engineering.
However, the project has taught them more than just science and technical skills, Hardin said. He's watched as students found their roles and learned to use their individual skills to benefit the group. He was glad to see the students naturally find leaders and allow them to help delegate what needed to be done to make the project run smoothly. He also said students have shown a sense of accomplishment and endurance, making steady progress and completing the project through to the end.
"I learned a lot in teamwork. I didn't really used to work well with others," student Cody Sowers said. "Also, with this, I've learned there's a lot of different uses for technology."
The electric vehicles are powered by a solar-charged battery and look similar to dune buggies. They each seat one person, covering their legs but leaving their upper body exposed similar to a much smaller Formula 1 race car. The battery sits in the back with wiring through the vehicle. They are even equipped with brake lights.
Other schools are working on it once a week, after school or early next semester, but Hardin wanted his students to be able to focus on the project and get it done. The students have been working on it almost daily. They finished the frame and wiring before Thanksgiving break. Once they return, they hope to test it and build the shell by Christmas break.
One of those students is Hayle Mack, who has been interested in the subject for several years and wants to show that women can find a way in the field.
"I think the main thing is there's not a lot of girls in [engineering]," Mack said. "I wanted to prove them wrong."
The project is modeled after one done in Huntsville, Ala. Members of green|spaces thought it would be beneficial for schools in Empower Chattanooga, a program that teaches residents of East Chattanooga, Highland Park, East Lake and Alton Park low-cost and no-cost ways to reduce their utility bills.
The schools were chosen as a pilot group, and green|spaces hopes to expand the competition in coming years.
So far, green|spaces has funded the project for five schools: Howard, Dalewood Middle School, East Lake Academy, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and STEM School Chattanooga. The Tennessee Valley Authority funded the project for Nolan and Woodmore elementary schools.
They will compete March 24 and see whose car is fastest.