High schoolers rev up science skills as they make more efficient cars
At a major science conference, high school students and their teachers from a poorly-funded Philadelphia school showed off a progressive car they made that beat out some tough competition in a worldwide contest. Technology reporter Adam Balkin filed the following report.
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At the recent Pop!Tech Conference up in Maine, Simon Hauger, a high school teacher in West Philadelphia, showed off a car a group of students under his guidance built. The resulting vehicle, made by the so-called West Philly Hybrid X Team, puts any go-cart to shame.
"[It] has a diesel engine in the rear, running biodiesel fuel, and an electric motor in the front which makes this a plug-in hybrid vehicle," he said.
The students submitted the car and one other model they made for consideration for the Progressive Automotive X Prize, making them the only high schoolers to compete in the worldwide competition. The goal of the contest is to build a safe, affordable and desirable car that achieves at least 100 miles per gallon in real-world driving.
Not only did the Hybrid X Team compete, but out of 111 teams they outlasted 90 others and got to the round of 21.
"We made it all the way to the semifinals. So there are a number of elimination rounds, we outlasted [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology], Cornell, Tesla. We were very low-budget, going up against multimillion-dollar corporations, and really I think the biggest thing we did was show what students can do when given the opportunity," said Hauger.
The team was eventually eliminated at the stage, where the cars had to get 67 miles per gallon. Both cars just missed, as one model hit 64 miles per gallon and the other hit 65.1.
Still, the students say they value the experience and the chance to learn without really realizing they were learning.
"We don't have the tools to really teach science in our school. Our school is very poorly funded, so science wasn't interesting because we didn't have the things in place to learn science. But in the auto shop, kids are constantly learning science and physics and things like that," said Azeem Hill, a senior at West Philadelphia High School. "I retain a lot more information about the science of the cars than in the classroom, simply because of the way I'm taught. We're taught through doing and not by sitting behind a desk."
The program has been going on for about the past 12 years at the high school. Organizers say in an area of Philadelphia where the high school dropout rate sometimes reaches as high as 50 percent, every student in the program has gone on to get a diploma.
For more on programs that engage teenagers in science, technology, engineering and math, visit Time Warner Cable's corporate website that promotes such activities at www.ConnectAMillionMinds.com.