A $99,000 grant through the Tennessee Department of Education allowed for 20 regional high schools to participate in the Solar Go-Kart challenge. At the beginning of the year, students from the participating high schools received a gasoline-powered go-kart to piece together and an electric motor. Each school got $3,200 to buy batteries, wires and other parts to build, and each kart is required to have a solar panel installed somewhere on it to charge the battery.
Assistant Director of Washington County Schools Bill Flanary, who had a hand in writing the grant to make the challenge a possibility, said that the idea was presented about a year ago at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. He said that the idea attracted him and so many others because it allowed students to get hands-on experience in the science, technology, engineering and math-geared project and would give them an idea of what engineering is really like.
Flanary said the solar-panel requirement is to ready students to work with the most cutting-edge technology — since fossil fuel energy will one day be a thing of the past, he said getting the students to work with the next big thing in energy production helps ready them with to work with the latest technology.
“This is the ultimate STEM project because there's no directions here, there's no how to manual, this is how NASA does it,” Flanary said. “This is real-world engineering, it's not a kit that you put together.
“That was the ultimate objective, to get these kids to see what it's like to engineer something on deadline and under budget.”
The grant covered 18 regional schools, including Daniel Boone, David Crockett and Science Hill high schools and other schools throughout the region, and two other schools managed to find private funding to participate. The preliminary race will be held on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Grandview Elementary School’s parking lot and will be open to the public. The students will head to four competitions in four different categories — speed, endurance, design and a 9- to 12-minute video report chronicling the work on the kart.
The final race will be held in May, and Flanary said organizers are looking to host the event at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Marty Cox, electrical teacher at Daniel Boone High School, has headed his students’ project since the beginning of the school year. Cox said he mostly supervises his team of 17 students for guidance, and their progress with the kart has consisted of a lot of trial and error, but it’s all been worth it.
“It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment and they're also using some critical thinking skills,” Cox said. “They're excited, it's neat to see them get so excited about this project.”
The solar panel isn’t the only requirement for the karts — safety provisions are in place first and foremost, and the grant included to racing helmets and harnesses for the drivers. Flanary said that even before the first race, the program has been a success and that he’d like to see it continue for the future.
“It's been successful already, the races and the trophies those are just gravy,” he said.
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