Saturday, January 03, 2015

Energy and the Electric Car Project

From the Mind of a Science Teacher

By Greg Reiva

This January I plan to literally put things in motion, while exploring the dynamics of velocity, acceleration and force with my students in conceptual physics class.  Engaging students, challenge their abilities and creating value for what they learn is no easily achievable goal, but doing real science in the science classroom is achievable, relatable to students and just plain exciting. It provides the rigor, relationships and relevance essential to learning in the 21st century.

Everything we do this spring semester will fall under the umbrella of Energy.  It is one of the most challenging concepts in physics to grasp and to be able to truly relate to the world that surrounds us.  For students this is the pinnacle of understanding when exploring ideas and concepts associated with the universe and its transformation overtime.

 The true essence of the concepts of energy play a pivotal role in describing 21st century models of matter and its existence in the universe. It defines our human existence within it.  At the center of any science curriculum should be the study of the production, use and transformation of energy.  This helps students understand the majestic structure of the universe and with that our human dependence upon energy for life.

Implementing inquiry-based models of learning in the classroom, along with project-based learning opportunities provide students with the means and the motivation to do real science.  This study of energy provides an excellent opportunity for students to utilize their skills and abilities to discover relationships, define laws of physics and to understanding interdependencies of multiple sources of energy that yield sustenance each and every day.

Solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, hand electric generators, electric motors, gear driven systems, electric cars and mouse trap cars provide an introduction to the wealth of resources available to teachers and students. It galvanizes creative minds helping them to be more engaged and motivated to become both innovative and inquisitive.
Energy efficiencies and the transfer of energy from one source to another helps define a system’s viability and capability.  To be competent in the determination of the flow of energies is to be able to manage a system’s productivity and maximize its outputs.  The goal of any energy producing system is to provide the means to create outcomes that produce work, transfer energies and support networks of human endeavor. 

A sustainable energy producing system will minimize energy consumption while maximizing outputs.  A sustainable energy producing system will access sources of energy that are carbon-free and completely self-sustaining.  Nonrenewable energy resources are a relic of the 20th century.  Energy awareness, in the 21st century, begins with students in primary and secondary grades embracing sustainability as a way of life and working to bring this belief into their homes and into their communities.

The Electric Car Project provides teachers with the resources and pedagogy to implement inquiry-based models of learning in the science classroom.  This project builds student understanding of the physics of motion and transcends into learning opportunities that requires problem solving and critical thinking.  Students work on a wide spectrum of energy-driven vehicles utilizing many forms of energy (mechanical energy, electrical energy, solar energy, chemical energy and associated sources of energy transfers) to produce motion. 

This project is a model of learning that builds upon prior knowledge and abilities, while offering engaging challenges directed at students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.  The rigor of the project is embedded within the concepts and learned principles as part of the science curriculum. The development of relationships, during the project, is fostered within students’ increased sense of autonomy, developed self-efficacy and a renewed openness to new ideas with collaborative efforts among peers. The relevance of doing inquiry-based research, as part of a science project methodology, contributes to an ecological conservativism; this is rooting in the belief of restoring a sense of community’s self-sufficiency, development of a commitment to raising the quality of life for all members of society and creating a deepened sense of engagement to life time goals.



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