With A Little Engineering, Oak Knoll Students Build Solar Vehicles Remotely

Cynthea Traverso’s Honors Engineering class was looking forward to designing, building and testing the strength of balsa wood bridges in class in March, but COVID-19 had other plans.

When Oak Knoll turned to distance learning after Spring Break, Traverso found another final project – solar climbing vehicle kits – that the two seniors – Kylie Hampton ’20 and Allison Fabrizio ’20 — and junior Teresa Pollard ’21 could safely work on from home.

“I wanted them to have the experience of putting something challenging together, even if it couldn’t be something that they had designed themselves,” said Traverso, Oak Knoll Upper School Math Teacher.

Each of the identical solar climbing vehicle kits were equipped with switches that allow the use of a battery or solar panel.

During class time, the students and Traverso logged onto multiple Zoom calls to build their vehicles at the same time.

After building their vehicles, students worked on final presentations where they discussed what they learned.

Hampton completed a presentation on how solar cells work and what they are used for; Fabrizio worked on research about electric motors; and Pollard compiled her presentation on how gears work.

Traverso said that while it was a challenge, the Zoom video calls helped the class to interpret the instructions, which were mostly drawings in Chinese with little English, and discuss the assembly of the parts.

“Each one of the students found something about the project frustrating and challenging, but they all stuck with it and figured it out,” said Traverso.

After completing their solar climbing vehicles, students compiled Google Slide presentations and each shared them live via Zoom with the class.

“My students always, always remind me that we all see things differently and that makes teaching so much fun,” said Traverso.

Hampton’s favorite part about building her solar vehicle was when she put the battery in and saw the vehicle begin to move. “It felt like a huge accomplishment and all of my time and effort paid off!” she said.

Hampton also said that the problem-solving skills she developed while completing tasks throughout her Honors Engineering class will continue to help her in the future.

For example, when the magic mirror that the class designed for the Oak Knoll Musical, “Beauty and the Beast,” broke, the 3D printer, Hampton and her classmates worked on creating a new design concept.

“This experience taught me how to be adaptable when things do not go as expected, and that is a skill that will help me in college and beyond,” she said.

students inducted virtually into the foreign language honor society at oak knoll