Gregory Neat

Preparing for a “green” future: Students build and design hybrid go-kart

For engineering teacher Greg Neat, the Cresenta Valley High School’s Tech Shop is a place where students apply the concepts they are learning in the classroom to solve real-world problems. By bringing their studies to life, he is helping them better understand algebra and physics and teaching them vocational skills for future careers.  

With “green jobs” likely to be a driving force in the future American economy, Neat  applied for and received a $5000 NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grant focused to give his students the knowledge and competencies to prepare them for the rapidly changing job market. His goal: give his students the understanding and technical skills to design and build a hybrid go-kart.

While the tangible goal was the vehicle, the learning objectives were three-fold: students must learn to apply traditional classroom knowledge to solve real-world problems; learn a base set of vocations; and learn to work successfully as a team.

Because the knowledge and skills varied among his more than 60 students, Neat developed the project to ensure that all of his students met his goals across grade level and experience. Several of his younger students would need to learn vocations before they could contribute to the construction of the go-kart and his students had unequal conceptual math and science knowledge.

To address these gaps in skills and learning, he divided the project into two phases. First, teams of two to three students designed and tested mini-hybrids that would serve as prototypes for the final product. Once students mastered the model-building skills, they could then graduate to work on the final project to build the larger hybrid vehicle.

This first activity served as a training ground for the students. These students applied lessons from math and science classes and learned a number of vocational skills including, computer aided design (CAD), electronics, programming, welding, and assembly and testing.

In order to evaluate the prototypes, Neat held competitions between student teams to test the models. Students explored a number of ways to power the models, using rubber bands, battery powered motors, and compressed air. Some designs would easily translate to a real hybrid vehicle, while others were not as practical. This was not a concern for Neat; this activity demonstrated students applying their lessons and thinking outside of the box.

“The competitions between groups were extremely engaging for the student and the amount of real-world learning during this stage of the activity was immeasurable,” said Neat.

When the testing phase was complete, the students proved that they were ready to tackle design of the hybrid go-kart. Originally, Neat had considered purchasing an old go-kart or golf cart and retrofitting it to function as a hybrid vehicle using the new principals and concepts the students had learned and applied. But with their new found confidence and skills, the students convinced Neat that they could build it from scratch.

When applying their learning on a real-world scale, the students encountered complex issues relating to function and design of the vehicle. In order to reinforce the importance of teamwork, Neat involved experts from the community to help the students find creative solutions to the problems. When the students were stumped on the fabrication of the go-kart, they visited a local company, Mechanical Concepts, and discussed possible solutions with the owner, Bruce Wilton. He invited students to use his shop to create the necessary pieces for the go-kart.

Once the nuts were tightened and the battery charged, the students showed off their design by testing the go-kart in their high school quad.

“I had a vision about how to teach students to apply knowledge and this grant allowed that vision to be realized,” he said. “The tangible product is a hybrid go-kart. The intangible products are the numerous students who will likely elect an engineering profession after learning the power of applying knowledge that they already have to solve a real-world problem.”