Authentic Learning

This week sees the culmination of over six months of preparation as our three teams get ready to compete in the University of New South Wales Sunsprint Challenge. The Challenge involves the construction of model solar cars that race around a track powered by nothing but the sun.

UNSW Sunsprint Challenge

Our Year 9 team has been really pushing the boundaries in terms of design and construction. After winning the 2013 Sunsprint and competing in the National titles in Melbourne the team decided they would go try to get ahead of the game and build their car out of carbon fibre. They did not realise what this entailed!

After a few phone calls trying to source their material of choice they made contact with Ian Pollard. Ian asked why they were looking for carbon fibre and offered to help them learn about the process involved. He also offered the use of his facilities to enable them to bring their vision to reality.

Here is part of the process involved:

We often hear the term ‘authentic learning’ splashed around in education. This project is a great example of this type of learning. Students involved in something they are interested in, learning from experts in the field. They then take that knowledge and apply it to a purposeful activity.

One of the team members remarked that it did not matter whether they win this year’s Challenge as they had already gained so much from the experience. They spoke about how they used Trigonometry to calculate the size of the angle needed to create the most efficient bracket to hold the wheels. They also spoke about how they had used the data from testing to lessen the mass of each wheel to ensure the car was a light as possible.

As I left the factory I reflected on where these students were only two years ago. They were in Year 7 then and were getting their car ready for their first attempt at the Sunsprint. Their car was a very basic design made of Perspex and cardboard! How far they have come in such a short time.

If only we could build more of these experiences into a school curriculum!


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