All Girls Electrathon Team at Middleton High School Redefines Link Between STEM & Car Racing

When you think of racing, you often think of Formula 1 not electric vehicles, Go-Karts and certainly not science, or technology, engineering or mathematics, or what is commonly referred to as STEM. Turns out there are many links between STEM and electric cars that are redefining what’s cool not only about racing but about STEM in general. Electrathon, the racing of a custom-built three or four wheeled electric vehicle, has gotten students here in Florida and across the nation fired up not just about pumping adrenaline levels, but STEM concepts involved in the mechanics and/or building of an electric-powered race car.

The Tampa Bay area serves as a hub for many Electrathon teams including an All Girls electrathon team at
Middleton High School. The team at Middleton comprises of eight, high school seniors and is the first all girls team in Florida. Kyle Thompson, lead teacher and coach for the Electrathon team at Middleton High School says the program is truly a “student driven program” that got started in 2014 when Thompson was brainstorming ideas with another colleague to get girls excited and engaged in the Electrathon project.

Since the project took off earlier last year the girls have taken the driver’s seat in terms of cruising ahead in statewide competitions and scoring some big wins. “For me it’s all about the logic as I am a logical thinker” said Katelyn Allan. Paolo Rioja, another team member whose interests also lie in technology and engineering says she got interested in joining the team as it helps her get hands-on knowledge about engineering concepts. Then too the most ‘fun’ part of the project for all the girls has been racing of course, and also building the actual car itself. Working as a team they developed a battery gauging tool to monitor how the batteries are doing during the race, and also used electronics and mechanical engineering concepts while wiring and building the car itself. “In the classroom you learn mainly theoretical concepts” said Katelyn Allan, but working on the electrathon competition helped make a connection with the real world and how some of the STEM concepts learned in class are applied in real world settings.

Besides building the car and racing, students also learned some key business skills. To raise funds to buy tools
and parts, students reached out to car manufacturers like TESLA and Mazda and in the process honed their problem-solving skills. “The learning becomes intrinsic where students are deeply engaged not only in hands-on learning, but also researching about components, parts, angles and rotations” said Thompson. Creative thinking and problem solving also helped students gain in-depth perspective about mechanics and engineering of a car.

The ‘All Girls’ team competed and won many accolades in the past year in state and regional competitions. Their very first race they placed first. For the second race they shared a car with the boys and came in second (where the boys placed third) competing with eight teams across the region including boys. The team hit the ground running whereas “the boys have never placed first” said Thompson. What got them the big wins was sheer determination, a methodical approach that included color coding wire connections, labeling equipment, and staying committed as a team. “It’s really incredible to see them work through all the steps to get to where they want to be” Thompson noted.

The project has not only ignited overall participation, but has helped “put girls and STEM” on the map. Britney Gray who wants to join the navy as a mechanical engineer says there is always hesitation on the part of girls to join an engineering team, but talking to other students about her individual experiences at open houses and school related events has helped generate peer interest. Thompson agrees “girls can do anything boys can do, even better”. Having an ‘all girls’ team at Middleton has enabled the girls to explore STEM programs and look into STEM based careers from a different perspective and envision more opportunities beyond high school.  “I am really excited for what they are doing and they are even more excited and committed than I am” Thompson said.

For more information on the Electrathon team at Middleton High School visit http://middleton.mysdhc.org/Electrathon, or email Kyle Thompson at kylegthompson@gmail.com. To join the ‘All girls’ team visit and trace them at the 2016-2017 races at http://middletontigers.org