Student power

Fort Dodge Middle School’s Talented and Gifted students constructed solar-powered cars Wednesday.

The fifth- and sixth-grade TAG students and 4-H C/C Sidekicks Club members were given kits with parts and instructions. Working in groups, they assembled in less than half an hour the small solar-powered cars using a base, four wheels and a motor attached to a solar panel the size of a smart phone.

The project at the middle school allowed students to develop and hone their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, according to Diane Pratt, FDMS TAG instructor.

“It helps the students learn communication skills. They’ll be working in teams to build the solar cars,” Pratt said. “It will also help develop their knowledge of some of the STEM skills that they are going to need for the future.”

The project was brought to the TAG class by the 4-H C/C Sidekicks Club.

“One of our senior 4-H members and I worked together and we wrote a grant to try to collaborate with our community partners,” Deb Shelton, club leader, said. “He was interested in something to do with technology, and there happened to be an article in my hometown paper about middle school kids building solar cars.”

With their $250 grant approved, Shelton acquired the kits from University of Northern Iowa and invited the middle school’s TAG students to participate in the project.

“Both the schools and 4-H have been charged with promoting STEM,” Shelton said. “Since they didn’t have a lot of activities going on, they were very open and willing to partner with us.”

Pratt said she was more than happy to bring the project to her students.

“We were contacted for our interest in the opportunity and we grabbed at it,” she said. “Anytime I have an opportunity to bring other people in to help the students learn, it’s a win-win situation for the students.”

Making the solar-powered cars is a challenge, Shelton said.

“You have to use your mental math and problem-solving engineering skills to be able to position everything correctly to make the solar car run,” she said. “Then they have extra parts in there that, once they test out their solar cars, they can see if they can build a better one that will go faster. They can take it apart and rebuild it.”

The students, however, were very eager to participate in the project, Pratt said.

“The enthusiasm has been very high for it,” she said. “You can always tell the level of interest if the kids get their permission slips back early.”

Once the solar-powered cars were completed, the students brought them outside and, under the direct power source, raced them freely.