Sparking the interest of middle school students in an engineering-related topic is not always the easiest task, but the University of Tennessee’s EcoCAR 2 team (Team Tennessee) has developed fun and interactive presentations and activities to engage young audiences. While also participating in hybrid technology research through the U.S. Department of Energy, Team Tennessee works to advance education programs in middle schools by developing partnerships with schools and teachers in the Knoxville area.
The future of research and engineering in the automotive industry offers a new opportunity to present rising middle school and high school students with exciting career opportunities in science-related fields. Teaching these subjects has been shown to be more effective when teachers are more adept at delivering the material through their content knowledge and hands-on activities.
With this knowledge, Team Tennessee seeks to invoke passion for automotive engineering and the study of technology through a partnership with SAE Foundation’s A World in Motion (AWIM) program. Specifically, Team Tennessee uses the SAE Foundation’s AWIM Jet Car kits to create a unique task. The AWIM Jet Car Activity was originally designed for students to make balloon-powered toy cars that meet specific performance criteria such as distance, weight carrying or speed.
The physics concepts of jet propulsion, friction, air resistance and design are the core scientific concepts students explore in the activity. The Jet Car activity was modified to mimic the competition structure of the EcoCAR 2 competition where students are given kits with the necessary components along with instructions and a limited time to design and build the Jet Car before competing. This activity is engaging and also shows students how the concepts learned in the classroom compare to the real world. Team Tennessee’s expertise in sustainable transportation and alternative fuels provides a supreme opportunity to engage middle school students in science-related fields.