Go Green Racers

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Starting at the beginning of January, 14 Comets students and 7 Ozone students joined Kim and Colin weekly for the “Go Green Racers” engineering enrichment program. At our first class we talked about what an engineer is and what s/he does, and discussed the engineering design process (Ask … Imagine … Design/Build … Test … Evaluate … Return to Ask …), which we would be using throughout the class. The students divided into groups and tried an engineering challenge – making 10” towers out of Dixie cups and index cards with a limited supply of tape, which would hold a stuffed animal on top for at least 10 sec, in 15 minutes. At the second class we continued our discussion of engineering and talked about the definition of technology (Engineers solve problems by inventing technologies; technology is anything created by a human being to solve a problem – it does not have to be electronic nor even mechanical – a concept the students struggled with at first). We played a fun and energetic game in the hallway where the students were on teams and took turns racing to choose whether an item we called out was technology or not.

Students also got a chance to sort through our recycled materials which had been collected from staff and parents over the previous week, and based on their observation of a toy car, divide the materials into bins labeled for wheels, axles, chassis (frames), and other components of their racers. Starting with the third class we started looking first at how wheels work and made some sample wheels and axles to try out different combinations and ideas, and then started building our actual racers. At the same time we learned about the history of the Dakar rally and the terrain that the race went through between Paris and Senegal, and decided on the exact composition of our racetrack and constructed it.  As we completed first versions of our racecars we tested them on the ramp and track, evaluated them, and decided how to try to improve them.  One week we experimented with adding sails and other wind-catching elements to see if that helped our cars at all.  Students experimented with different materials for their chassis, wheels and axles, and with different ways of attaching the axles to the chassis and to the wheels.  Some tried using putty around the chassis and axle joint, others tried to get it completely fitting tightly but still able to rotate – a delicate balance.  Many found that if their wheels were loose their car could not navigate the obstacles on the track and/or it did not go straight at all, and they had to work to find ways to make their wheels stable and upright but still able to rotate freely.

In the end all six groups of students with the help of both their specific Ozone mentors, and at times help from each other Ozone mentor as well, had a functioning recycled racer and even had time to decorate it before our final showcase held on Friday, March 13, 2014.  About 25 other BASCP students and 9 parents, along with several siblings, showed up to watch our final races (we raced 4 times that Friday afternoon), and everybody’s car was a success.  We also held an awards ceremony where each mentor and Comets student received a certificate and small present.  Two weeks prior to that we held a special session with the mentors to hear about their experience and get their feedback.  While all mentors said it was a difficult experience in some ways and mentioned specific things that were hard about it, they all said it had been a good experience and they would do it again. -Kim