Hope Public Schools

HAPS Students Build Electric Cars

Ken McLemore

HOPE – Students in Kayla White’s Innovation Lab at Hope Academy of Public Service have hands-on experience in the fundamental concepts that Tesla and other electric car manufacturers are using to step into the future… now.

Southwest Arkansas Arts Council/Arkansas Arts Council Artist in Residence Mary Overton, of West Fork, worked with White’s students for two weeks learning the theory of electrical circuitry, fundamental automotive design concept, and how to work with a variety of mediums including wood and plastics to build small-scale electric cars.

As Overton explained to the class, the cross-curricular concepts were all necessary to make the project work.

“If you wire the battery to the motor backward, it’s not going to work correctly,” she noted. “If the wheels are not properly aligned along the axles, it’s not going to move.”

Throughout the process, the 113 Innovation Lab students in White’s classes learned the practical aspects of design, testing and redesign.

Using balsa wood, plastic straws, Styrofoam, AA batteries, plastic wheels, plastic propellers, and electrically-driven motors, the students built individual cars on the same fundamental design. Decoration was separate according to taste or theme.

Each student had to determine his or her design application and produce a design plan that met Overton’s approval. Designs were then matched to materials and the building process produced a vehicle for testing in two stages.

Stage One in testing required a determination of mobility. Using a small electric hair dryer, each student placed their wheel-mounted chassis on the classroom floor and pushed the vehicle with the air flow from the blow dryer to determine whether it would roll in a straight line… or at all.

Adjustments to wheel mounting or chassis to wheel relationships were made and the rolling test was repeated until a satisfactory straight roll was achieved.

Stage Two in testing began with testing wiring using a small propeller-driven motor mounted to the chassis. After a satisfactory motor test, the motor-powered vehicle was tested for straight line operation under its own power.

Next came the decoration phase and decisions about drivability carrying decorative weight, which became important during the races that followed completion of the project.

“They really learned a lot about many different things,” Overton said.

Winners of the Fastest Car competition by class were Shelby Gilbert, second period; Jorgia Coffee, third period; Luke Martin, fourth period; Ella Lafferty, sixth period; and, Maci Clark, seventh period.

Seth Zimmer, electric distribution supervisor, and David Clayton, electric journeyman line worker, from the electrical power services division of Hope Water and Light provided information about different uses for electrical power and fundamentals of electricity.

“What you have built with a small battery is different from what we do to bring electric power to your house,” Zimmer said.

But, the principles are the same, Clayton explained.

“You have to have a circuit to make your car run and you have to have a circuit to make the lights work in your home,” he said.

Both men cautioned the students about the dangers of electricity, as well.

“Some of you have said you’ve been shocked by electricity; and, it hurt,” Zimmer said. “You have to be careful, just like David when he works on a line because it can be dangerous.”

Overton worked with the HAPS classes for two weeks as part of the Arts in Education program of the Southwest Arkansas Arts Council/Arkansas Arts Council partnership with the Hope Public Schools.

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