Monday, December 6, 2021

A Sunny Day for STEAM Solar Car Racing

Rumination from the Rock and Beyond

Photos by Jory Westberry
| And they’re off!


If you challenged me to build a solar car, honestly, I’d have no idea where to even begin! And, I’d have to recruit three other like-minded, six-grade team members, and try to convince a teacher, who’s already overwhelmed with extra responsibility during Covid-19, to take on another educational responsibility… can you imagine?

Competitors carefully cover their solar panels with cardboard to prevent an early launch and when the official white sun-blocker replaces the cardboard, all know the start is equally fair.

An additional requirement of the competition, after the car is designed, is to test the design and keep records of the dates, data and speed of the car based on time of day. Then graph the results and label each one to be displayed on a trifold board and judged to determine the effective display of the use of scientific processes. 

Your planning process has to be documented and labeled each step of the way with accurate drawings and dimensions of your solar car on a tri-panel science display board that catches the judges’ attention and meets all the criterion from the information given to students and coaches.

Whew! Instead, I’ll just attend the event, assist where I can, take photos to document the races and spread the word about how much fun science is in Collier County Public Schools (CCPS). 

This was not my first time at the STEAM Solar Car Competition, it was probably the sixth, but each time the event is better organized and there is more enthusiasm on the part of the teams, their teacher/coaches, judges, and the few extras that assist where needed. 

This event was formerly held on the Florida Southwest College campus in a large parking lot with bleachers, usually filled with cheering support teams and lots of picture taking. There was plenty of room nearby buildings for other grade-level science events simultaneously held there on a Saturday in Spring, but not this year.

The buses with excited students and their coaches pulled into the Administration Center from every CCPS location in the county, from Immokalee to Everglades and schools in-between – all 12 middle schools participated. In 2019, parents, teachers, sponsors, friends, and relatives could attend, but the events were curtailed in the Spring, 2020.

Fortunately, the creative minds of the CCPS Science Department found a way to provide a competitive experience safely in the eighth year of the STEAM Solar Car Competition including Veronica Mamone, K-5 Coordinator, Ted Borduas, K-5 TSA, Ryan Westberry, grades 6-12 Coordinator and Kandi Follis, 6-12 TSA. (TSA is Teacher on Special Assignment).



The day starts early with detailed explanations of the day’s procedures, how the judging and brackets will be decided and when lunch will be served. To be sure there are no conflicts of interest, the names of the participant schools are entered on a computer-generated wheel, and the spin declares the order on the bracket which creates a double-elimination competition. Clever.

After all the preliminaries are finished, each team carries their precious STEAM Solar Car to the “pit area” to await their turns to race. There is probably some final tweaking of the cars, but only students are allowed in the pit area. Teacher/coaches can cheer them on only from a distance. It’s a congenial atmosphere and the four team members from each school sit together, talk, and focus on racing with glances at the other car designs they will soon compete against. Their nervous excitement is palpable.

The STEAM Solar Car Competition is a nail-biter, no matter where or when. While the outside competition is starting with all the procedures explained, there are judges inside evaluating the tri-fold display boards and giving points for each of the categories. These totals are combined later with the results of the actual racing.

Second place was earned by the Everglades School sixth graders with Coach Mitchell Roberts.

Why a nail-biter? Two reasons. Solar cars rely on the SUN, so if a cloud covers the sun, the results are affected. Luckily, after two to three days of overcast skies, the sun was out and became even less obstructed as the competition continued. Second reason, some of the cars run “neck and neck” down the raceway and from where you sit, you can’t tell who the winners are until they’re announced. Some amazing solar car designs have accidents or lose power or even wheels. Luckily, there are three heats for each pairing and, to be fair, they alternate tracks after their first heat. Each round’s winner will have the best score of three races.

The winners go on to the next pairing until all the races are completed. There are no “places” finalized until the scores from the tri-fold display boards are totaled with the racing results. After the calculations and lunch are completed, each school’s team is recognized and photographed. The finale is recognition of the third, second and first place teams. Each of those team members receives a medal and trophy for being finalists from their respective schools and the top three teams receive a large trophy to be exhibited with pride in their school’s trophy cases.

The third-place team was the eCollier Academy team of Judah Bobrow, Caliana Castro, Jalen Mayberry-Escubi, Sophia Mackie and teacher/coach Michelle Kamen; the second-place team was from Everglades City School with Kedny Mendoza, Makenna Ames, Shaylee Deleon, and Miranda O’Connell with teacher-coach Mitchell Roberts; and the first-place team was from Corkscrew Middle School with Samuele Di Matteo, Ruben Macias, Michael Martinez Perdomo and Benjamin Reites with teacher-coach Debra Rapp.

Excitement, comradery, and great sportsmanship abound, with some, if they’re candid, a little disappointed about their efforts mixed with resolve to do better in future science opportunities. Most importantly, they left with smiles and more knowledge about solar power, teamwork, design, and had an exciting experience with science.



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