High Schoolers in California Build Electric Cars at EV-LC Summer Camp

Twenty high school students from around San Diego, California quietly gathered at EV-West for the start of their summer camp. It didn’t take long for them to get excited about what they were about to learn.

In one corner stood Tony Hawk’s futurized electric Stingray. In another, an electric vehicle (EV) that broke world records for speed. Everywhere they looked, they were surrounded by electrified celebrity vehicles and classic cars from VW buses to a DeLorean and Porsche 912.

Together with the San Diego Automotive Museum and support from Qualcomm through the SAE Foundation, Electric Vehicle Learning Center (EV-LC) gave high schoolers the chance to learn about electric vehicles firsthand and assemble their own mini EV toy car. Through the unique partnership, the museum facilitated the entire camp, inviting students and even providing free transportation for campers.

Although some students were skeptical at first, instructor Mr. G., Ron Grosinger, simplified the process by breaking electric vehicles into three basic components: motor, speed controller, and batteries. Throughout the day, he drew pictures of core concepts and used fun activities to help students feel more confident. They learned about gears and batteries along with how to turn potential energy into kinetic energy. Once they were able to apply what they were learning to their hands-on vehicle builds, their confidence only grew. 

“Having a hands-on and creative experience makes it easier for students to try new things, and learn from their mistakes and triumphs,” said Mr. G. “People tend to only look at the wins, but each failure is a learning experience. When kids have a safe and supportive space to try and fail, they develop perseverance in learning,” he added.

If the students weren’t already motivated enough, a chance to compete against the adults from the automotive museum was all they needed. With five minutes to go before race time, they all kicked it into high gear. There was a speed race and an incline plane race, giving the students a chance to experiment with wheel size or add more motors or batteries. Although an automotive museum engineer won, the students all had a lot of fun and left with a deeper understanding of EV technology.

While they didn’t know each other before the camp started—coming from several different high schools throughout San Diego—by the end of the day the once quiet group had all bonded together. If one of them finished a task first, they would immediately look around to see if anyone needed help. They wanted to “get it right” and kept working on their vehicles.

Beyond the amazing learning experiences, throughout the day students were also exposed to possible career connections including parts and accessories, EV conversion companies like EV-West, and of course, design. A few students even reached out at the end with hopes to volunteer with EV-LC or participate in an internship.

Part of the SAE A World In Motion® (AWIM®) middle and high school STEM curriculum, the Motorized Toy Car Challenge gives educators like Mr. G. a flexible, hands-on learning experience that can be delivered over the course of a few weeks or modified to fit into a one-day camp. In this case, EV-LC modified the challenge from plug-in to fully battery powered. Along the way students also learned about forces, speed, torque, simple machines, gear ratios, and power electronics.

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