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Practical Science

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

(page 3 of 3)

This year, Silvis said the SEV project has met with certain “speed bumps.”

Students found their vehicle frame was off seven-eighths of an inch after they purchased some PVC pieces locally, buying all that was available, and had to buy the rest from Twin Falls. They didn’t realize the PVC dimensions were different from one manufacturer to the next and being off seven-eighths of an inch proved detrimental when it applied to multiple fittings on the vehicle.
They ended up having to scrap their first go at the frame and get all PVC pipe from one manufacturer in order to make it fit.

Learning processes like this are exactly what Amato and Silvis are trying to create with hands-on projects that allow students to identify and solve problems.

“Some changes were made due to improper measurement and we explored the problems in quality control and the importance of accuracy,” Amato said.

One of the biggest challenges in the project is the short time period for each class. With only 50 minutes each day, there’s a lot to get done in between bells, including cleanup.

James Petzke, 14, is hard at work filing what will soon serve as the floorboard for the SEV.

The math and measurements were the most time consuming and hardest part of the project, in his opinion, but the challenges were alleviated by all of the people working together to build the SEV and the amount of time they spent pre-planning.

Petzke says this is important work because SEVs will have to happen on a large scale one day in order to solve the energy crisis.

“I’m going to love driving it,” chimes in his sanding partner, Conor Murray, 13.

He’s not the only one. All of the students acknowledge they are excited to seat themselves behind the wheel of their finished product. Most say the endeavor has sparked their interest in sustainable energy and they hope to drive their own SEV when they grow to legal driving age. Several also confide to me that their teachers are “really cool.”

For Conner Bennett, 14, who is hard at work drilling holds for the foot pedals, this class is preparing him for his future career. He comes from a family of mechanics, who work on boats and other machinery. I am proudly informed he and his brother already run their own landscaping company.

“This is the stuff I like to do,” he said. “My favorite part will be driving it and seeing what it will turn out to be. Knowing you can do it is a lot more fun, too.”

Rosa Vidal, 13, is the only girl brave enough to take this class full of boys. She is working hard to design a logo for the class project and all of the students will have T-shirts bearing the logo when the SEV is complete.

She is inspired to take technology classes throughout the remainder of her academic career, another sentiment echoed by her classmates.

Asked if she is looking forward to driving it as well, she responded, “Yeah, I don’t want to crash, though.”

It will be the first time she has driven a car.

Riley Henneghan gets to take the SEV for a test drive at the moderate speed of 20 mph.


Students learned about key factors that are holding back gas mileage, such as the necessity to reduce vehicle weight. Less weight means increased efficiency, which is a fundamental point the SEV building exercise is meant to instill in the kids.

This is the micro picture of what their middle school education has accomplished. The macro picture is that they are learning to scientifically research and develop ways to better their world.
Amato explained that this year’s SEV project will build off of this last one, as is the trend for every year. They will reuse parts and borrow and improve upon ideas. Students will gather data from the previous SEV this winter and use that when they build their new one.

“Next time, we plan on having them design a three-wheeled version,” Amato said. “We are going to build two so we can have some races. We’re going to see if we can’t tie into that competitive spirit.”

Silvis is quick to point out the program at the middle school is one part of the very important continuum of technology education in the Blaine County School District.

Silvis and Amato still draw from NASA for some of their projects and NASA is now a primary component in technology education in elementary schools throughout the county.

“Our elementary schools build a foundation in critical thinking, problem-solving and practical reasoning,” according to Bellevue Elementary technology teacher Krista Jones. “A crucial core to all we do is to teach the children how to increase and apply their knowledge, make connections and (show them) how their ideas and actions can and do make a difference in the world. Teamwork is another crucial core item, a real-world lesson in how our global society works.”

Jones contracted with NASA for three years to write curriculum that would bring the NASA excitement to elementary kids everywhere, and because of her relationship with NASA, she was able to bring the program back to the Valley after Thode and Walrath left the middle school and the program there changed hands.

“Using NASA as an educational partner allows the students to be part of something big, cutting edge, our future, and gives them the opportunity to work with and for people outside of the school system,” she says. “The beauty of all of our (technology education) programs is that they are dynamic. The programs are designed to mirror current events, developments and problems in today’s world. That being said, sustainability is a huge issue that must be addressed by all. The middle school students’ experiences in (technology) may spark new ideas or may play an important role later in life.”

Silvis said Blaine County public schools are fortunate to be one of only a handful of school districts in the country that has a technology program at the elementary level.

Silvis and Amato return the favor provided them by elementary teachers. Their eighth-graders are equally excited to move on to technology classes in high school.

Once students enter high school, the technology building blocks from elementary and middle school can be applied to elective classes in more career-specific areas. They will have the opportunity to take classes such as IT and construction.
It is nearly impossible to understand where something is going without understanding where it has been and some details must be provided regarding the previous program at the middle school.
Silvis and Amato follow some great teachers, Thode and Walrath.
Walrath is very optimistic for the future of the middle school program.

“The beauty of technology is that it is continually and quite rapidly evolving,” he says. “Therefore, progressive educators are able to capitalize upon a plethora of current events and topics. Alternative or renewable energy sources (can) serve as effective thematic content organizers just as aerospace worked for Mr. Thode and myself.”

Walrath relishes his unique opportunity teaching at WRMS.
“From the teachers’ point of view, it was the opportunity to present enough options to hopefully find a niche unique to each student, so that they became more informed consumers of technology,” he says.

It seems that despite the distance between space and Earth’s surface, the previous and current teaching programs are not that far apart. Thanks to the incredible continuum of technology education throughout the Blaine County school system, perhaps local students are moving toward solutions to the world’s greatest problems at the speed of light.

Kelly Jackson is a journalist and freelance writer whose work has appeared locally in the Wood River Journal and this magazine. She currently works as the director of outreach and communication for Citizens for Smart Growth, a local nonprofit advocating for vibrant communities in balance with nature. Jackson lives in Hailey with her husband, Jason Von Lindern, and two dogs and four fish.

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