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Practical Science

Once concentrated on space, Hailey’s technology program is back on land

(page 2 of 3)

It doesn’t look street legal, in fact, it doesn’t look like much of anything, but when completed, the SEV these students are considering under the guidance of teachers Jeremy Silvis (back left corner) and Al Amato (at right) will hit up to 20 mph and run on easy to recycle acid gel cell batteries.


“More than anything we want students to be enthusiastic about possibilities in their future rather than afraid of the changes that are going on,” said Amato. “We don’t think it’s cool to just give kids the bad news without giving them the good news.”

The teachers believe the challenge to identify and capitalize on the most efficient forms of sustainable energy opens new doors for young scientists.

Technology students entering the program at the sixth-grade level take a general technology class that combines the two key elements that are taught at the middle school: communication and engineering. Seventh-and eighth-grade students choose to concentrate their studies on either topic in a combined class.
Communication and engineering programs are taught through a series of projects, and innovative sustainable energy and environmental ethics situations are infused throughout all the classes.

For example, Silvis says in one project engineering students use software programs to design passive solar energy systems. Similarly, one project for communication students is to create a video to promote alternative transportation.

It all leads up to the SEV, a project made possible by a grant from Power Engineers.

The SEV is the final project for Wood River Middle School eighth-grade advanced technology students, which they build from start to finish during the last 12-week trimester of the school year. It is the culmination of all they have learned about scientific advancement in the environmentally-conscious field after completing a required three trimesters of engineering or communications technology classes.


The last group to work on the car found out accidentally and, fortunately without incident, that the battery-powered rig could go 100 miles per hour if tested.


Amato said the idea came about as he and Silvis were completing an inventory of their supplies and realized they had some motors, batteries and controllers that would be perfect for building a car.
Rising gas prices and the goal of a homegrown solution to transportation and energy problems played a part in this decision.
More than anything, Amato said it was their “Gee, wouldn’t it be cool if . . .” teaching philosophy.

“Having these resources on hand, the next thing was ‘gee, it would be cool, let’s build a car’ and we took it from there,” he said. “So many things arise from our own enthusiasms. You have to kind of think like a middle school kid.”

The 2007-2008 assignment began with students researching and presenting short reports on aspects of electric vehicles, from motors to batteries and transmissions, as they prepare to design the SEV from scratch.

“We took measurements of each student in the class to determine the ergonomics for middle school students to determine critical dimensions,” Amato said. “The students then did some conceptual sketches of their ideas. Following their brainstorming, they produced some scale drawings of their ideas which they developed into scale mock-ups of the vehicles.”

Critical characteristics, such as the ability to stop, go and steer, factored into the design they settled on.

Students then moved on to building and testing. They divided into teams to build sections of the car chassis, which was then dry assembled and checked for accuracy. They were on a deadline to have the vehicle in a drivable shape before school was out for the summer, so they had little time to collect data on the finished project.

Silvis laughs, recalling that this year he and Amato took special care to ensure the car would not go more than 20 mph after a scare last year when students completed the SEV and found the wheels would spin over 100 mph during an initial test. Fortunately, the test took place before the first student settled in behind the wheel and Silvis and Amato quickly switched the gear ratio so it would travel substantially slower.

Twenty miles per hour is fast enough for kids who are not yet old enough to drive a regular car, Silvis muses. >>>


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