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Solar power drives student competition

March 30, 2018

Mother Nature created the perfect Saturday for elementary and middle school students to compete at the EnergyWhiz Expo held at McLane Middle School. Students competed in the Junior Solar Spring and Solar Cook Off.

The solar cars were judged on design, innovation and performance. Each team’s effort is focused toward the final event – a 20 meter, wire-guided sprint race where the best design and construction techniques will pay off with the win. Students were seen encouraging one another and showed impressive sportsmanship.

A Solar Energy Cook-off also took place, which was a two-part competition encompassing the design of a functional solar cooker and the creation of a dish made in the solar cooker. This competition was developed to provide a real world solar thermal challenge for students. Each team prepared their dish, discussed their cooker with the judges and answered questions from attendees.  

First place teams from the Junior Solar Sprint and Solar Cook-off qualified for free registration at the Florida Solar Energy Center’s EnergyWhiz Expo May 12, in Cocoa, Florida.

The Jalapeño team from Chiles Elementary won first place in the cook-off for their Mexican inspired meal of taco seasoned ground beef and homemade guacamole.

G’kosi Boyce, a seventh grader from McLane Middle School won first place in the middle school Junior Solar Sprint competition, and Shelby Bain, a fifth grader at Lithia Springs won first place in the elementary division. Shelby has used each competition she has entered as an opportunity to improve her engineering skills and design, and her determination has now earned her a spot in the state competition.

Jeilin Robinson and Iliana Cannon from McLane Middle School created the only front wheel drive solar car for the competition. Their design technique also won them a spot in the state competition. The girls will build and test out several new solar cars before making a decision on which one to enter into the event in May.

“We focus on reusable materials when creating our cars to make sure it is healthy for the environment. I have a lot of fun building and fixing stuff and learning the mechanics of it all,” said Iliana Cannon.

Michael Wilson, McLane Middle School’s robotics engineering technology teacher has been working with the Florida Solar Energy Center for over a decade now, and runs this regional event.

“We hold this event each year to get students excited about engineering and interested in STEM-based careers. Aside from the solar racing we have a robotics team— the Vibots, and our sixth grade team, made up of all girls, qualified for the 2018 VEX Robotics World Championship being held in Kentucky at the end of April,” said Wilson.

The girls will soon be making final adjustments to their robots and then head to Kentucky to compete and share their accomplishments with some of the best robotics teams from all over the world. 

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