Cloudy Skies Add to Real-World Learning Challenges at EnergyWhiz

By Sherri Shields

COCOA, Fla.,  May 21, 2018—A blanket of cloud-covered skies can be a real challenge for students to race Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) cars and keep solar oven temperatures sufficient for cooking.

Sam’s Speed Shop from McLane Middle School in Brandon, FL won first place in Race competition, second place in Most Innovative Design, and third place in the Best Design competition in the Blue Division (grades 7&8). Photo: Liza Robles

Although the sun never peeked through the clouds for the EnergyWhiz competitions on Saturday, May 12th, at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, the JSS cars were still able to race. “One thing we’ve learned since hosting EnergyWhiz for the past 15 years is that if you want to stay on schedule, you need a backup plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate,” said Susan Schleith, K-12 Education program director. “Battery backup is now an essential part of the car design, for situations like this.”

Female student from Saturn Elementary School and a male student prepare to race their Junior Solar Sprint cars, which were modified to run on batteries instead of solar due to the cloudy sky.
Female student from Students prepare to race their Junior Solar Sprint cars, which were modified to run on batteries instead of solar due to the cloudy sky. Photo: Leon Flowers

New to the JSS competition this year are two teams from Saturn Elementary School’s After School Program. An Army Education Outreach Program (AEOP) grant provided funding for Schleith to work students who are underserved and underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. “I was able to work with the afterschool coordinator and students two days a month for nine months,” said Schleith. The MX team finished in fourth place, and the Shakamelina team ranked in the top 10. “The kids had a lot of fun. You can tell how proud they are of what they did,” said Marilea Pittenger, afterschool coordinator at Saturn Elementary.

Solar Energy Cook-off

Two male students stand along side their foil-lined, foldable cooker that has two side-by-side insulated pots in the center.
Sun Food from Martinez Middle in Lutz, FL earned a first place in Best Design and the WOW! Award in the Yellow Division (grades 4-6). Photo: Nick Waters
Team Sabores Grill (three female and two male students) stand along side their solar cooker, which incorporates the lens from a TV mounted on a stand.
Sabores Grill team from Lake Nona Middle School earned first place in the Solar Energy Cook-off Best Design, first place in Culinary, and the Wow! Award in the Orange Division (grades 7-8). Photo: Nick Waters

Backup plans for solar cooking are not as simple. Solar Energy Cook-off teams typically have backup recipes in case the sun is hidden behind the clouds, and most of the teams did this year. A few teams weren’t able to present anything to the tasting judges, but that didn’t stop them from discussing with the judges what they had planned and had tested prior to the event. “I give them credit for having the determination and creativity to follow through the process and not throw in the towel,” said Cheryl Thorn, Solar Energy Cook-off team leader.

Solar Energy Cook-off teams use digital or infrared thermometers to help ensure food is safe for tasting. Solar Express from Milwee Middle School, who earned second place in Culinary and Best Design, still managed to cook thin strips of steak for their steak fajitas. How’d they do that? “A good solar cooker design can make all the difference,” added Schleith. Solar cooking can be fun and Izaac Gonzalez from Milwee Middle School’s Solar Express adds, “My favorite part about this competition is that I get to eat the leftovers.” The instructors were pretty excited about EnergyWhiz too. “It’s gratifying to see the students perform well in front of the judges, being able to translate what they’ve learned in class into a real-world situation,” said Carol Unterreiner, Milwee Middle School instructor. “And then to a get a thank you from a student who felt he was able to adequately answer the judges questions about what he had learned, makes it all worthwhile,” added John Kallin, partner instructor. Solar cooking teams are judged in the categories of Culinary, Best Design, Wow!, and Fresh From Florida, which incorporates Florida-grown ingredients.

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Energized Students Infectious at Statewide Renewable Energy Competition

COCOA, June 5, 2017—Nearly 50 schools across Florida—from Key West and Tallahassee—participated in this year’s EnergyWhiz competition last month at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center.

More than 115 teams, which included nearly 500 students, prepared their projects for competition: model-sized solar cars for the Junior Solar Sprint (JSS), solar ovens for the Cook-off, full-scale photovoltaic panels for Energy Innovations, energy-efficient animal homes for the Critter Comfort Cottage competition, and go-cart-sized electric cars for the Electrathon.

In the longest running event, JSS, cars underwent inspection, design judging, time-trials, and new this year, team interviews. “Questions from judges may sometimes be intimidating, but interviews give students the opportunity to shine when they’ve put their heart and soul into a project,” said Guytri Still, JSS lead design judge and former middle school science teacher.

Long table with students on one side, inspectors on other side. JSS car being weighed in.
Junior Solar Sprint cars are inspected and weighed. Credit: Selina Black

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STUDENTS OUTSHINE RAIN AT ENERGYWHIZ OLYMPICS

COCOA, May 3, 2014—Despite discouraging weather forecasts, more than 450 students traveled from as far away as Key West and Tallahassee to compete in the EnergyWhiz Olympics at UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center today. The sun didn’t shine, but the competitions went on…well, at least part of them.

In the Bright House Solar Energy Cookoff, ovens were judged only on design. The morning started out cloudy and oven temperatures only reached 100 degrees before the heavy rains appeared. Also impacted by the rain was the Junior Solar Sprint (JSS), a model solar car race.

“We were hopeful the rain would go around us, but not this year. It’s the first time in 14 years that we couldn’t hold the Junior Solar Sprint,” said Susan Schleith, K-12 education coordinator at FSEC.

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Students’ Bright Ideas Shine at EnergyWhiz Olympics

COCOA, May 11, 2011 – Florida students have creative ideas for solving some of the world’s greatest energy challenges, and their solutions were demonstrated Saturday at the ninth-annual EnergyWhiz Olympics.

More than 900 students throughout Florida converged Saturday, May 7 at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) in Cocoa to compete in the day-long competition showcasing student projects in alternative fuel technologies.

Solar Energy Cookoff teams were judged for their cooker's design.
Solar Energy Cookoff teams were judged on their cooker's design and the dish they cooked.

Events included the Bright House Solar Energy Cookoff, a solar cooker design and cooking contest; the Junior Solar Sprint, model-size solar car races; the High School Hydrogen Sprint and Hands-On-Hydrogen, model-size hydrogen-powered car races; and Energy Innovations, a full-scale solar electric design challenge. Read more

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Renewable Energy Solutions Demonstrated by Students at EnergyWhiz Olympics on Saturday, May 9

WHAT:
The seventh-annual EnergyWhiz Olympics is a series of day-long activities dedicated to students with an interest in alternative fuels. It is composed of the Junior Solar Sprint, Hydrogen Sprint, Energy Innovations and the new Bright House Solar Energy Cook-off.

  • The Junior Solar Sprint is a competition that challenges middle school students to design, build and race model solar cars. Awards are given based on vehicle design, quality of craftsmanship, innovation and vehicle speed.
  • The Hydrogen Sprint is a high school competition that provides opportunities for students to explore hydrogen power with a hands-on design component and a presentation.
  • The Energy Innovations program is a full-scale solar electric design and marketing challenge for middle and high school students. Each participating team designs and constructs a product or artistic work fully powered by photovoltaics (PV), also called solar electric cells. Teams also create marketing pieces, such as brochures, fliers, and posters, to accompany their products.
  • The Bright House Solar Energy Cook-Off challenges students, in grades 4th – 8th, to design and build solar cookers, and to also cook a recipe of their own creation using the power of the sun.  In Top Chef-style, each dish will be judged by a panel of experts based on taste, ingredients and creativity.

WHY:
These hands-on renewable energy competitions – for elementary, middle and high school students – expose students to alternative energy fuel sources, and encourage scientific know-how, creative thinking, experimentation and teamwork.

WHO:
More than 650 elementary, middle, and high school Florida students – from Tallahassee to Miami and everywhere in between – will participate in the EnergyWhiz Olympics.

Number of Teams in Each Competition –
Junior Solar Sprint:  60
Hydrogen Sprint:  13
Energy Innovations:  12
Solar Cook-off:  46

WHEN:
Saturday, May 9 starting at 9 a.m.

9:00 a.m.    Welcome – Auditorium
Dr. James Fenton, Director, Florida Solar Energy Center

9:30 a.m.    Technical Judging Begins – Junior Solar Sprint, Hydrogen Sprint
Hydrogen Sprint Presentations
Energy Innovations Displays Open to Public
Solar Energy Cook-Off – Design Judging
Solar Cookers – Displays Open to Public

11:30 a.m.    Energy Innovations Judging – Middle School Teams

12 noon    Energy Innovations Judging – High School Teams
Junior Solar Sprint Race Begins (Track Area 1)

1:00 p.m.    Hydrogen Sprint Race Begins (Track Area 2)

2:00 p.m.    Solar Energy Cook-Off – Recipe Judging (Auditorium)

3:30 p.m.    Awards Ceremony (Auditorium)

WHERE:
Florida Solar Energy Center, 1679 Clearlake Road, Cocoa, FL 32922

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

For more information on these exciting educational events, visit
http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/education/k-12/events/ewhiz_olympics.htm or view a video about the EnergyWhiz Olympics at http://vimeo.com/982597.

Contact Susan Schleith, FSEC Education Coordinator, at 321-638-1017 or Susan@fsec.ucf.edu.

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PR09-07

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Teachers Learn A Life-Saving Skill: How to Build a Solar Cooker

What does an umbrella, inner tube and mylar blanket have in common?  They are all components of innovative solar cooker designs.

Seventeen teachers came to the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) in Cocoa this past Saturday, from as far away as Sarasota and Port St. Lucie, to learn how to build solar cookers.

Teachers learn how to construct solar cookers from everyday items such as an umbrella.
Teachers learn how to construct solar cookers from everyday items such as an umbrella.

Working in teams, the teachers constructed five different solar cookers.  Each design used common household items in creative ways, including an umbrella, inner tube, and plant stand, to name just a few.  Armed with new information, strategies and inspiration, these teachers will work with their students to build a variety of solar cookers.  The student-designed and built cookers will be on display at the Bright House Solar Energy Cook-off at FSEC’s EnergyWhiz Olympics on May 9. In Top Chef style, student teams will also submit a food cooked in their solar cooker to be judged by a panel of experts.
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