Magazine article Technology & Learning

[6] Road Rules: The Dell-Winston Solar Challenge Is More Than a Race-It's an All-Around "Brain Sport" for Teachers and Students

Magazine article Technology & Learning

[6] Road Rules: The Dell-Winston Solar Challenge Is More Than a Race-It's an All-Around "Brain Sport" for Teachers and Students

Article excerpt

Seventeen-year-old Chelsey Johnson is zipping down a Texas highway at 35 miles per hour, on the first leg of a 1,000-mile race to Cocoa, Fla. Ahead of him, a lead car scouts out the driving conditions. Trailing is a chase van, where a team of students, armed with laptops, crunch speed and battery life numbers, sending him directives via CB radio.

This is not a video game; it's the Dell-Winston Solar Challenge, a program that teaches high school students to engineer cars powered by the sun. Founded in 1991 by the private Winston School in Dallas, Texas, the first challenge attracted 90 schools, with three cars qualifying for the final race. Today, 900 schools from 22 countries are involved.

Preparation starts with a workshop in July, where new student teams and their teachers get a dose of best practices, fund-raging ideas, and technical expertise. Kids plot their vehicle designs in the fall, and by springtime, teams must pass rigorous prequalifying tests (aptly called "scrutineering").

In addition to learning about engineering, alternative energy, battery technology, aerodynamics, computer science, and meteorology, kids have to translate that knowledge into strategy: What speed does the driver need to go to maximize battery power? …

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