Summer Camp Empowers Students to Race Toward STEM Innovation

Posted September 1, 2017 by Toni Cerbo

Miami’s tropical summer days are a great time for students to get out of the classroom and explore new things. While most kids were hitting the beach, 48 diverse high school students gathered to explore the hot topics of robotics and engineering.

Miami Dade College’s North Campus set the scene for a three-week robotics camp. Students engaged in hands-on STEM learning with Vex Robotics, drone programming and operation, Arduino programming and Ten80’s Student Racing Challenge.

Ten80 lets young people get hands-on
to discover how to engineer performance
with radio-controlled cars.

Students in teams of four got started by learning how to use the 1:18 scale radio controlled (RC) cars. Students gathered on the hot pavement under the heat of the afternoon sun to gain familiarity with the cars while also learning about key engineering concepts. Graduating to the 1:10 scale race cars, students learned the finer points of driving technique, multiple aspects of automotive design and handling, as well as entrepreneurial thinking and innovation.

Those who really handled the speedway curves well, established themselves as the lead drivers. Students who excelled at restoring the mechanical systems back to optimal performance proved themselves worthy of leading the pit crew. Those students showing a flare for entrepreneurial thinking, managed the marketing and presentation components.

“Students have fun racing the cars, but also modifying the vehicles to see if they can improve them,” said camp instructor Manuel Cox. “Gaining experience with the cars, discussing the physics behind them and presenting their teams helps students become creative problem-solvers.”

Weeks prior to the final competitions, students worked in teams to learn how to analyze data, debrief and obtain vital performance information and re-engineer motorsports technology to make informed decisions to generate optimum car performance. Students experimented with precision maneuvers on various race tracks – drag strip, oval and obstacle course.

But, it’s not all about the racetrack. Before the tires burn, teams must gather data, modify racing strategies and present team identity, concepts and mission to bring their team victory.

Ten80 offers a fluid blend of
creative thinking, intelligent problem
solving and appropriate design.

With no shade from the palm trees, all 12 teams lined up for the big race. The mission – push through 10 laps to be first to the checkered flag. As in any race, nothing ever goes according to plan. Wheels come off, gears blow and batteries die. A team of upperclassmen was leading the entire race, until they reached lap 9 where mechanics and engineering came into play. Pulling into their pit stop to make repairs allowed other teams to quickly take advantage of the situation.

This is where a properly disciplined, well led pit crew becomes essential. The upperclassmen stepped up. They analyzed the moment, found a solution and fixed the problem. Upon re-entering the speedway, they noticed a team of underclassmen had overlapped them. Coming from behind, they again took the lead. With focus and skill, they raced towards victory in record time.

In addition to the summer camp, Manuel Cox is in his fourth year of using Ten80’s Student Racing Challenge at his high school. “Ten80 is probably one of the best hands on activities that allows students to apply the engineering concepts and processing they learn in the classroom,” shared Cox. “With Ten80 students get to design on paper, construct or modify, before evaluating data to determine how they should compete.  Data driven application is the most innovative method to incorporate all aspects of a successful pre-engineering program.”

Both male and female students demonstrated a wide range of STEM skills during the three-week camp. Inclusion and access are important to the camp’s mission, so Miami Dade College’s Silvio Parodi strives to bring a wide range of underrepresented students together – including those from low-income families as well as female and minority groups.

There is something magical about a summer camp experience. Engineering race car performance helped inspire these high school students to thrive in a world of constant innovation. But, perhaps the best part, was the opportunity to make new friends and have a whole lot of summer fun.

Leave a Comment