Using solar cars to excite middle school students about engineering

Liz Kisenwether, Andy Lau, Toby Short, Kathy Gee

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


This paper describes the history, administration, and in-school experience of middle school students in the design, construction, and running of model solar-powered cars. The authors lead a team that includes university faculty, middle school teachers, a non-profit company, and community volunteers. Over the past 16 years we have grown the event from a single classroom project to an annual regional competition of over 250 students from every middle school in the county. Special effort is made to recruit and retain girls and other underrepresented groups. In the process of creating their cars, students employ concepts in earth sciences, math, chemical engineering, and circuits as well as general model building and special skills like soldering. The project was inspired by the Australian-International Model Solar Challenge and the U.S. Junior Solar Sprint (JSS). However, compared to the JSS, the materials, teaching regime, and challenges to the cars have been greatly expanded and improved over time. Workshops on the campus of The Pennsylvania State University for the middle school students have been instituted. Annually, construction components are updated, challenges added, and educational presentations and materials revised. The project applies both instructive and constructive learning, including the engineering process of planning / building and testing as well as using math modeling and electrical principles to make design and building decisions. The culmination of the project is an annual half-day event where the students from all the regional middle schools bring their best entries to a central location to run their cars in a variety of competitions for awards.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationASES SOLAR 2017 - 46th Annual National Solar Conference
EditorsJan Kleissl, Paulette Middleton
PublisherAmerican Solar Energy Society
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9783981465983
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Event46th ASES Annual National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2017 - Denver, United States
Duration: Oct 9 2017Oct 12 2017

Publication series

NameASES SOLAR 2017 - 46th Annual National Solar Conference


Conference46th ASES Annual National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited States

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


Dive into the research topics of 'Using solar cars to excite middle school students about engineering'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this