Hands-On Projects Make Science Class Fun

hands-on, stem,education,project-based,learning,teachers,students

All Hands On Deck

At SmarterSTEM we believe in project-based forms of education which connect theory to reality for students and teachers. How many fond memories do you have of textbooks, lectures and exams? It’s the team-oriented, results-driven, hands-on projects that inspire curiosity, and students agree.

“It’s the hands-on aspect I like the best,” said student Nick Clement of Tustin High School’s T-Tech engineering program which built SmarterSTEM’s Racer8 in class.  In our podcast interview he said building the go-kart in class made it “…more interesting to see how things work and how they go together.”

By following a step-by-step process putting the parts together, students better understand the purpose of each part and how it affects the whole. This helps teach underlying principles of science, like structural and mechanical engineering, fuels and more.

Electric Go Karts

Tustin High School led by teacher Ed Hernandez built a Racer8 electric go kart from SmarterSTEM, completing it in class, and even winning a regional competition. By following a 16-week course with assembly instructions and lesson plans, students engaged in what essentially became a pre-engineering program that gave them a jump-start in preparing for college. The vehicle projects eventually led to a full scale engineering program called Tustin T-Tech. Students told us the experience helped them get into college engineering programs.

The objectives are simple. In an 8 week period students learn about energy and its relationship to work and motion. They plan for the optimal use of energy resources while gaining an understanding of basic tools and safety in a work environment.  Basic electronics are covered with high voltage and safety procedures related to electric vehicles. Controller programming and control board design and operation, general schematic reading and comprehension of symbols and terms, and finally charging techniques for traction batteries and auxiliary power storage systems, round out a rewarding scientific endeavor. Download a sample lesson plan here.



A great side-benefit of project-based learning is that students have the opportunity to work in teams.  This allows them to experiment with different roles, finding out what they are good at or what they prefer.  Learning the overall lesson will be easier if students can understand and try various roles to better understand the whole.

With Tustin’s example, some students with backgrounds in computer coding and modeling focused on that aspect of the project while the others focused on the mechanical aspects.  Other students would focus on the electrical system while others would work on the mechanical aspects, like steering, brakes, tires or suspension.  Each action affects the whole and is another lesson learned. The Racer8 Curriculum includes: Course Lesson Plans, Video Assembly Guide, Cart, Racer8 8.5KW Drive train, Motenergy Brushless Motor, Programmable Clearview CANopen Display, and VRLA Batteries & Gauges.

As with any project, there is always a clear objective and goal. With the go-kart students can visualize their end-goal and the many steps it takes to reach completion. Once the go-kart is completed, having the opportunity to see and safely drive the vehicle brings a unique sense of satisfaction and pride in their education.  Again, how much more memorable is such an experience compared to a textbook exam?

Teachers say students get so excited about these projects they become obsessed with finishing and taking it a step further. Some schools take their experience building the go-kart to the next level by entering into competitions like the California Energy Invitational, which has become an annual event. SmarterSTEM offers a competition package for the Racer8 go-kart.

“I’m a little embarrassed that some of their other academic pursuits suffer,” said Doug Fraser, engineering professor at Dartmouth and founder of Formula Hybrid in which students entire their own designs in time trials. He says when you walk through the garages during these competitions, the students are so intent on their projects, it’s a sure sign they are enjoying their education.

SmarterSTEM is helping these classes go to the next level with the 3D-EV project, which is still a go-kart design but more like a full-scale car.

3D-EV Capstone Project

STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

The diverse education provided by automotive projects makes alternative fuels and the environment a multidisciplinary experience for students. Working on building an electric car students don’t even realizing they are covering all the elements of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.)  Here are some examples of the subjects covered when working on automotive projects:

  • Science: hydraulics, electronics, fuels and emissions, environmental issues handling waste products, chemistry of sealants, friction and wear, metallurgy, simple machines, thermodynamics, hydraulics, pneumatics, torque effects on fasteners, ergonomics, chemical reactions, leverage, energy transfer, refrigerant handling, battery chemistry, electrolysis, and electromagnetic induction.
  • Technology: computer controls, multiplexing, electric vehicles, alternative fuels, collision avoidance systems, on-board diagnostics, scan tools, web-based training, procedure videos, online technician networks, digital multimeter, and pc-based shop manual systems.
  • Engineering: engine design, increases in horsepower and fuel efficiency, vehicle safety systems, electrical circuit design, aerodynamics, custom vehicle applications, and service procedure efficiencies.
  • Math: basic computation, alignment geometry, standard and metric measurement, precision measurement, problem solving skills, fuel economy calculations, gear ratios, percentages, comparing measurements to specification, calculating labor rates, estimating, interpreting sensor data, calculate weight, volume, and height, fuel trim data, and Ohm’s law calculations.

Jobs of the Future

STEM has been receiving a lot of attention as many see the USA losing its tech advantage.  Recently Rep. Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) included support for STEM education among a five point economic development plan for New Jersey.

“It’s estimated that by 2018 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs. I saw these openings first-hand when I worked at Microsoft,” Gottheimer said in a recent interview. “We need more engineers and programmers to maintain our edge in the Apps economy.”

It’s estimated that by 2018 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs.

The need for more technical training and STEM education is nationwide. One teacher said their class saved a student from dropping out, because he was the only one skilled at welding. The entire class convinced him to come back and he eventually went on to earn a degree.  Another student who took the class came back later as a teacher for the same course, which shows SmarterSTEM’s approach works.

SmarterSTEM’s career technical education programs are designed to enable a range of career training classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced level students. These 16-week courses and instructor training labs offer the flexibility for educators to meet wide range of capabilities and interests for students in many school settings. Courses include alternative fuels, solar technologies, computing, design, 3D modeling and printing, indoor grow machines and other projects.

SmarterSTEM offers help in procuring grants, scholarships and funding for its educational programs. Contact Us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *