Jeffersontown High students display design and build skills in solar go-kart race

Solar go-karts were designed and built by students involved in the Academies of Louisville 

teacher gives students instruction on racetrack before solar go-kart race begins

By Toni Konz Tatman | JCPS Communications 

A student-led project that transformed a pile of aluminum into a solar powered go-kart at Jeffersontown High School took top honors in the school's Solar Challenge this week.

Students involved in the Academies of Louisville Build & Design Academy at Jeffersontown participated in the second annual event, which featured a car show, student exhibits related to alternative energy and solar go-kart races. Students drove the go-karts in timed races that included a pit crew stop and driver switch.

The winning go-kart, nicknamed the Silver Charger by their classmates, was completely designed and built by students in Greg Smith’s class.

“We stripped the engine and motor from one of last year’s go-karts and built the whole thing from scratch,” said Kesean Payne, a senior. “It was a bunch of aluminum tubes sitting on the ground and now it’s a fully-functional kart. It’s a nice thing to see.” 

solar go-karts on racetrack

Smith said the races were a culmination of the real-world, project-based learning that has been taking place in the classroom. From fabricating equipment and using torches and saws to welding, he said the students did it all.

“We even learned how to TIG weld,” Kesean said, referring to the tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding, an arc welding process that uses a non-consumable tungsten electrode to produce the weld. “That’s how you get the little ripple effect on the aluminum.”

“I told them, if we are going to build a frame and retro fit all the other components from last year, let’s make it light,” Smith said. “They really took off with wanting to learn how to TIG weld, how to do everything. They learned a lot, I learned a lot. It was really exciting to see.”

The other teams of students worked on regular go-karts, but dismantled the engines, replacing them with battery-powered engines, where the energy is harnessed by solar panels. 

students give their teammate a push in solar go-kart race

“It's all about how we've incorporated all of our classes and everything we've done over the past few months into the solar karts," said Luke Stout, a senior. “We've used our math classes, our English classes and our science classes to write out the equations and figure out how we can improve and make it the best it can possibly be.”

The Solar Challenge was made possible through partnerships with Ford Next Generation Learning, the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant and Kentucky Trailer.

In addition, engineering students from the University of Kentucky visited with the high school students to help them with design and other components.

Christy Rogers, the director of College & Career Readiness for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), said creating, innovating and solving challenging problems are all important skills for students to develop and learn because they are essential in today’s workforce.

students racing in solar go-kart race

“That’s why these kinds of hands-on, project-based learning experiences are so beneficial to our students,” she said.

Teacher Matt Stahl said another benefit was seeing all of the students work together.

"They were so engaged, so dedicated," he said. "Last year was our first time and I think that each year, the students are going to get better and better."

"Teamwork," Kesean said. "We all had a role, we each had a job to do and we had to work together in order to make it happen. I think that was the best part."

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