The Platte River Power Authority’s NoCo Time Trials ended on May 13 with a virtual award ceremony where the solar and battery car racing champions of the three middle school teams were crowned.
After a successful debut of the competition in 2019, Platte River had to cancel the 2020 race due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Platte River still made grant funds available to teachers who wanted to participate in the NoCo Time Trials 2020 to fund STEM programs for their students. The organizers decentralized the competition in 2021 and added virtual elements to keep the health protocols up.
“It was a tough decision to cancel last year,” said Steve Roalstad, communications and marketing manager at Platte River and initiator of the event, “but we couldn’t let the kids down, so we developed the virtual format, to keep the momentum going. “
Photo courtesy of Platte River Power Authority
The 2021 competition allowed teachers to safely conduct individual races with their students using solar and battery car kits and Platte River circuits. Students were given a month to build their cars, drive them, and submit race times to Platte River to determine the winners.
A total of 10 middle schools and 85 teams took part in this year’s NoCo Time Trials, battling to build and drive the fastest and best-designed cars. The following winners were announced and received commemorative awards during the virtual ceremony: Fastest Solar Car: Team 1, Sunset Middle School, Longmont. Fastest battery car: Weebs, High Plains School K-8, Loveland. Finally, Best Design: GOAT Targets, Webber Middle School, Fort Collins.
“This is one of the best projects I’ve done with students,” said Krista Chiaravelle, teacher and trainer at Sunset Middle School. “As a design teacher, I appreciate the experimental approach and commitment.”
“This year probably meant more to our children than any other year,” said Kathleen Kingdom, Dean of Studies at Colorado Early Colleges Fort Collins West Middle School. “The parents were so excited that [their kids] be able to do something practical and get involved in this activity. It was a great inspiration for everyone at our school from top to bottom. “
“The staff and everyone in the building even said the school sounds like we’re used to the learning, the excitement and the fun,” said Lindy Jones, teaching trainer and STEAM coach at Loveland’s PK-8 High Plains School. “It brought some of [the fun] back, which couldn’t happen because of all the restrictions. “
The NoCo Time Trials gave students the opportunity to work in teams, gain hands-on problem solving experience, and interact with the same solar and battery technology used by Platte River to generate electricity. Alyssa Clemsen Roberts, Platte River’s Chief Strategy Officer, hopes the event will encourage students to pursue higher education and careers in STEM.
“We know it’s really hard to get people into the STEM field. If we get them young, we can convince them that this is an exciting path, ”she told the teachers during the award ceremony. “As our industry continues to rapidly shift towards a carbon-free energy future, we will need a truly skilled workforce to help us achieve our goals.”
Some schools had so much fun building cars that they came up with new car designs and tested adding new technology. Team Monkey Men from Boltz Middle School in Fort Collins used a 3D printer to design their battery-powered car.
“We are currently doing an extension with the cars [by] Adding multiple motors, hybrid solar / battery power … me even [had] a group [add] Propeller, ”said Matt Smith, a science communication teacher in seventh grade at Walt Clark Middle School in Loveland. “It was really cool to see what [students] come from.”
“As a result, off [the NoCo Time Trials], next year we will be offering an engineering design process course two lessons per week for 7th and 8th grades, ”said Marianne Aiken, science teacher at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School in Fort Collins.
Platte River launched the NoCo Time Trials to encourage more students from northern Colorado to participate in the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) nationwide Middle School Car Competition, a long-running solar and battery car race. Thirty-five teams from seven middle schools in the Platte River owned communities of Fort Collins, Longmont and Loveland participated in the inaugural NoCo Time Trials event of 2019, with multiple teams advancing to the NREL state tournament and two teams taking home trophies. Although NREL’s 2020 and 2021 state tournament has been canceled due to the pandemic, Platte River staff look forward to resuming both in-person events in 2022.
“I would like to see more children from our community of owners compete at the state level,” said Roalstad.
Platte River Power Authority is a not-for-profit public utility that produces safe, reliable, environmentally, and financially sustainable energy and services and supplies it to its community of owners in Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont, and Loveland, Colorado for delivery to their utility customers. Further information is available at prpa.org.
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