Students gear up for electric vehicle engineering competition

Issue: Volume 97, Number 20

Posted: 12 November 2018
Reference #: 1H9o21

While working together to design, build and race electric vehicles, secondary school students around the country are gaining engineering and teamwork skills.

Mana College student Riria Ward prepares to race her team’s 350W bike.

Hutt Valley High School students began their exploration into electric vehicles (EVs) last year when they hosted a hui for local schools to find out how they could get involved in a nationwide engineering competition.

The EVolocity competition requires teams of students to design and build a vehicle powered by a standard 350W electric motor, a controller and two 12V gel cells. The process helps students develop skills in mechanical and electrical engineering, electronics, programming, video-making, marketing and teamwork.

Students work to make the fastest vehicle with the least drag and learn to design for the demands of a tight street circuit. Teams are encouraged to consider object detection and mitigation features, along with the measurement and display of key performance metrics.

Hutt Valley High School digital technology teacher Matt Harrison says competing in the regional finals had multiple benefits for his students: students who might not usually participate in team sports developed their teamwork, cooperation and social skills, while also extending their science and maths knowledge.

“That was my main focus. Because I’m a dean, I wanted the Year 10s to develop their collaborative and social ‘soft skills’, which digital tech companies like Google look for in future engineers and computer scientists,” he says.

“New Zealand has also got a massive science and technology industry that people don’t really appreciate; it’s the biggest exporter next to dairy.

“I’m very interested in the coding side of it; I don’t have lots of practical skills in the engineering side and I see that with the students as well, so I thought it’d be good for them to get some hands-on practical skills.”

Students were supported by engineering tutors from Weltec and Whitireia, but needed to be proactive in designing and creating their vehicles.

“It was very much student-led rather than expert-led,” Matt says.

“The kids had to really step up and do it themselves and it was really great. On the competition day lots of the dads came along and some of the mums and they got stuck in helping the kids, and that was really nice to see them bond in that kind of way over this project.”

Opportunities not just for boys

Sacred Heart College Head of Science Maria Blackburn also saw the competition as a way to expose students to new opportunities.

“We thought that this was something that the girls would find interesting and challenging and relevant to today’s world of sustainability and electric vehicles,” she says.

‘The challenge of designing, building, programming and sourcing materials for the build was a learning experience for the girls. The girls who were involved were at the start out of their comfort zone as Sacred Heart College does not have a hard materials or engineering workshop. Teamwork was the key in this project so that individual strengths were utilised.

“We thought it was quite a good extracurricular activity and it also gave us the chance to look at some of the standards that are attached to that … we thought that we would do a run without any credits attached to it first just to see what was involved.”

Wellington’s only all-female team was able to get started with the help of Weltec tutors and facilities, and later connected with whānau to learn from their knowledge.

“We didn’t race in the first year because we just didn’t get there, but we were determined to race this year so one of the dads volunteered to take the car into his garage so we could work on it with his tools under his supervision.”

Cross-curricular learning

Otaki College entered a senior and junior team into the competition last year. Technology Curriculum Leader Chris Georgetti says the students have modified one of last year’s vehicles and entered a new vehicle this year.

Students benefit from the fun and exciting cross-curricular learning opportunity, he says.

“It brings together a whole lot of subject areas, so there’s technology, engineering, some science and maths as well. All of them play a part in this and also it’s the sort of project they can get interested in, because they actually have something which runs and they can race, so there’s a definite goal to it. Instead of just making something they then take home and sits on a shelf, they want to do the best they can.”

Why did you want to get involved with this opportunity?

“To learn some new skills and learn how to fix things and build a better vehicle.” – Liam Campbell, Year 8, Otaki College

“Because I wanted to learn more about the transport of the future.” – Aidan Cross, Year 10, Hutt Valley High School

What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

“My biggest challenge was probably trying to get my time down for the street circuit. To overcome this challenge I thought about what I had to do and kept practising that until my time got down to about 35 seconds.” – William Fogden, Year 8, Otaki College

“We had multiple errors with our bikes’ motors not working, batteries arching and the bike chains breaking. We just had to repair and replace the faulty parts and hope for the best.” – Aidan Cross, Year 10, Hutt Valley High School

What was the main thing you learned from this experience?

“I learned how to wire stuff like electronics and also how to get better at driving and putting a bike together and apart.” – William Fogden, Year 8, Otaki College

“How to make a functioning e-bike and race. I also learnt amazing teamwork skills.” –  Aidan Cross, Year 10, Hutt Valley High School

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:48 am, 12 November 2018

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