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STEM Teachers: Build Working Electric Vehicles With Your Class

From Switch Vehicles, Inc. in Sebastopol, CA, comes a project-based learning and STEM curriculum that has classes build, and even operate, an electric car.

“Our primary goals are to engage students in the education process,” said Switch co-founder Peter Oliver in a press release. “We want them to learn about math, science and technology and use their lessons to actually make something.”

The EV Chassis Lab program runs for one semester, and in that time teaches circuitry, mechanics, and incorporating new forms of energy into vehicles. The vocational and scientific learning experience gained is relevant to real world careers in the tech sector and beyond. This includes skills in proficiency testing, automotive mechanics, and renewable energy. Instructors are finding multiple uses for the cars, with some employing them in up to four separate classes. As a learning tool, students can utilize the platform in classes that range from automotive suspension to computer programming. It offers supplemental tools to help build the vehicle, from lesson plans to parts to build the street-legal car.

“It’s really plug and play,” said Roger Pressley of Central Academy of Technology and Arts in Monroe, NC in the release. “Any school can do this regardless of the tools or shop facility. You can start with any space.”

Geared towards high schools and vocational schools, student response has been mostly enthusiastic, with most enjoying the learning experience of working on a long-term project. The program is much more user friendly and efficient than similar programs, such as converting a car as a class, which can be a major time and money investment, and often times an unattainable goal within the confines of the school year.

“We think of the program as learning on many levels simultaneously. For instance students are exposed to CAD design, manufacturing, how the various frame components are designed and assembled as well as the wiring, electronics, and finally the operation of the completed vehicle. While all of the ‘official’ education is taking place they learn the soft skills required to function in any workplace,” said John Palmerlee, Production Engineer at Switch Vehicles, in an interview with Education World. “As important as all of the other educational elements are, students also learn self-confidence. They learn the satisfaction of building something with their hands and then have the experience of driving the completed project. Each student can point to the vehicle and honestly say ‘I built this!’ This is where learning happens.”

Planned for a full 16-week learning affair, the program also includes precursor training for educators, as well as other guides for those working with the hardware, process, and some concepts for the first time. This allows the instructor to build a car during a teacher training session before they bring the program into the classroom.

The Common Core aligned curriculum covers all areas of of the construction process, from core concepts of electronics to fundamental building skills, the program teaches engineering principles, mathematical processes (determining horsepower and wattage, etc.).

With more than a dozen schools using the EV Chassis Lab electric vehicle program, the car itself can even be shared throughout the district, with easy assembly and disassembly semester over semester within its longterm reuse value.

“I heard about Switch from a colleague…what better way to teach auto engineering than to build a car? The way things are going, we need to look at alternative fuel cars…this is good for students to learn,” said Mike Johnson in the release, an automotive instructor looking to engage students at Lompoc High School in Lompoc, CA.

He reported that the first year’s program had 15 kids signed up. The number doubled to 30 the following year after other students saw the class’ finished car.

All students get hands-on experience building, testing, and operating the electric vehicle as student engagement grows through the program’s duration. Some educators have even retained students that have considered dropping out through their involvement in the EV Chassis Lab program.

Students also enhance abilities in other skill areas, such as math and science, through the in-person practice they get while working on the electric vehicle as a class. Other areas of knowledge enchantment include battery technology, controller technology, and other niche areas of engineering that can make for great career paths.

“One defining concept behind our education program is exposed when we are asked the question: ‘How will The SWITCH participate in global solutions to energy, environmental and transportation urgencies?’,” said Palmerlee. “Our vehicles not only make a great education platform because of their simplicity, light weight and efficiency, but these same qualities address requirements we see in the global transportation industry. The SWITCH takes approximately one third of the natural resources to manufacture and uses less than one tenth of the energy to drive when compared to a typical economy gasoline car. The manufacturing process is so simple that construction facilities could be developed in any global economy without significant investment. Our long term goal is to provide an inexpensive, clean, sustainable solution transforming the global transportation industry.”


Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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Copyright © 2015 Education World


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