Boys tinker with model cars. Some doodle with illustrations while others fumble with new computers.
A visit to instructor Gary Quinn’s classroom, tucked high above the Sandpoint High School gym, is reminiscent of a walk through Santa’s workshop.
As music featuring Jim Morrison whispers in the background, students hustle between a lone telephone, several work tables and a hidden word processor.
“It’s like this every day,” said sophomore Justin Schuck. “Everyone knows what they have to do and (they) do it.”
As part of a new class at Sandpoint, known as Emerging Engineering Technology, Quinn’s 20 students are engaged in a year-long project of building three completely electric automobiles. And when spring comes, they’ll not only have a product to test at regional competitions, but they’ll have hands-on experience in a host of academic disciplines.
“It’s an awesome class,” sophomore Adrian Menard said, adding that the marketing and computer aspects of the class are just as interesting as the creative part.
During the first weeks of school last fall, Quinn focused on teaching communication skills to his students (mostly juniors and seniors) before issuing a 120-question skills inventory test that allowed him to pinpoint his students’ strengths and weaknesses.
With this information, he divided the class into three groups which, in turn, elected a project director and subdivided into marketing, research and design groups.
“Communication is a big part of the project,” Quinn said. “Without communication, the guys would be lost.”
The three marketing teams have been constructing project portfolios that detail the electric car project in hopes of garnering sponsorships from area investors. Before beginning construction, the three groups must sell $1,500 in advertising.
The students have calculated the exact amount of advertising inches for each car, including a team logo and name. “If they don’t get the money, they don’t build the car,” Quinn said.
Since September, the research and design groups have been researching motors, frame designs and other electric car groups throughout the United States to get new ideas and concepts for the cars. The students have used the Internet to visit electric-powered vehicle web sites and download additional information.
And they’re largely in charge of the project.
“This is not a project that I designed,” said their teacher. “They are doing their own thing. The primary motivation is their sense of ownership.”
Along with the computer information, the students have drawn thumbnail sketches of the proposed cars along with computer-aided versions of several designs using geometry, math analysis, design concepts, ergonometrics and statistical analysis skills.
In order to be in the class, students had to have taken a technology class in the past or received a recommendation from a math or science teacher.
After the initial research stage, students then constructed prototypes of the electric cars to test the vehicles’ efficiency, dynamics and general compatibility. In the coming month, they’ll be using an air funnel and video digitizing the car’s results via computers before beginning construction.
“We messed with it until we figured it out. We made a lot of saves,” Menard quipped.
The construction phase deals with metal fabrication, composite body materials and electronic components. All the vehicles must comply with guidelines set by Electrathon, an international electric vehicle organization.
The car is allowed a maximum of 64 pounds of battery weight; the driver must weigh at least 180 pounds. Other than that, the design of the vehicle is left up to the group.
“The beauty of (free construction) is that it offers flexibility,” Quinn said.
After finishing the three electric vehicles this spring, the students will travel to various races, including one in Bozeman, Mont., as part of the Technology Student Conference. About 300 students are expected to attend.
“I think we will do pretty good,’ Menard said. “(It depends) on how much money we can get, how expensive we can make it.”
Sandpoint students will also compete in regional races against students from Priest River High, which offers a class similar to Quinn’s, and with local clubs from Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.
Their vehicles will also be featured in Sandpoint’s annual Fourth of July Parade and in the community Renewable Energies Fair later next year.
Races, Quinn explained, are basic efficiency competitions in which the objective is to travel as far a distance as possible in one hour. Most races are held on a one-third- to one-half-mile track constructed in a paved lot.
“The point isn’t to see who has the lead foot and can go the fastest, but what vehicle goes the distance and holds up,” he said.