Editor’s Note: This is another post in a series by teacher Aaron Vanderwerff of Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, California.

I don’t know about you, but my spring breaks were pretty uneventful throughout my teenage years.  Sure, there was probably a bit of schoolwork to do, and I would hang out with some friends, but I know that I didn’t work on my machining skills so that I would be able to make an adapter plate for the electric vehicle (EV) conversion I was working on. Definitely not that.

Our students have been “out” for the past two weeks, but that hasn’t stopped them from coming in. Many of them spent their vacation here the first week of break, working on robots for Botball, meeting with their Maker Faire project mentors, or just working independently on their projects.  But one team stood out from the rest: the EV conversion group.

The first week of break these three EV-maker students were at school with their mentors KO, Doug, and Rich, taking apart old lithium-ion battery packs to see what they could reuse in their vehicle. I kept track of their progress between the meetings and planning that filled our professional development week.  The EV-maker students were motivated to learn how to charge the packs, how to connect the battery control system, and how to test the individual batteries using a multi-meter.  They were re-learning basic electric circuits that we covered in physics class last year on their own time.

At the end of the week, they asked what days the school would be open the following week — still during their spring break — and were frustrated to find out that the building would only be open on Tuesday, the very same day that were going up to Sebastopol to work with Brian, another mentor and EV enthusiast who they had met earlier this year, and create their own adaptor plate.

engineAn adaptor plate is a key part — the part actually — that connects the old truck’s system (the transmission) to its new source of horsepower, the electric motor.  It can cost $750 to $1500 to have one made, not to mention the 3 to 6 weeks it takes for it to be made-to-order.

Our three guys called their Sebastopol-based mentor Brian and asked him if he could help them out.  He said that if they could make it up to Sebastopol with the engine, transmission, and a piece of ½” aluminum, they would be able to have a complete adaptor plate by the end of the day.

So that’s what they did over spring break – they got a step closer to bringing their EV conversion to Maker Faire and learned applications for the physics class they took last year.  Most of all, they pursued their passion – which is something we all talk about wanting students to do more in school.

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