These kids in grades 4-8 are involved in Junior Solar Sprint Racing, a nationwide activity sponsored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Races have been taking place since the 198o's. The primary goal of the JSS program is to inspire enthusiasm for science and engineering in young people. Racers use one standardized 3 watt solar panel, a standardized electric motor, and must meet certain construction criteria for the car to qualify for competition. Beyond the panel and motor, design opportunities are endless. The building of a model solar car increases students understanding of scientific concepts and renewable energy as well as giving them hands on experience with materials and applications of these concepts. They often work in teams mirroring real world technology endeavors.
I can attest from my many years conducting pizza box solar oven workshops that students at this age are hungry to apply their manual skills to a concrete tasks – a task that yields a real world working object that they can display with pride. Junior Solar Sprint racing delivers this confidence building experience in spades. Which isn't to say it's all smooth sailing! I've been a judge at a few of these races and can assure you there is a great deal of character building going on as the kids are confronted with the usual frustrations that go along with any attempt to build a working model.
Adult volunteers and mentoring are an integral part of the program as well. In fact, essential. Helping kids undertake this exciting and challenging technology competition yields rewards that are direct and substantial for adults who care about fostering intellectual and manual skills in maturing young minds and bodies. First stop to explore this exciting world: nrel.gov/education/jss_hfc.html