Philadelphia filmmaker Debbie Morton followed the EVX Team for two years as we competed in the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE. Her documentary, Fast Times at West Philly High, premiered on Frontline this week and can now be seen on-line.
Whenever you are asked to present your ideas in front of an audience, it is a pretty great thing.
Last Thursday, the students of the West Philly Hybrid X Team Summer Program 2010 presented their work and findings on two very distinct but valuable projects: enhancing the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus and designing an “ideal” school.
Their presentations were wonderful.
Over the course of six weeks, students and adult team members worked towards common goals set by the group. Starting the summer program, nine students signed up and arrived the Tuesday after July 4. For reasons that even my mother and Ann cannot understand, we finished the program with six students enrolled. On the first day, one student, Alex, stayed for about two hours and never returned from break. Peter was absent for two days in a row and never called any of the adult team members. Danny was late three days. He was asked to leave.
Boundaries and habits of mind were established by the students and group members right away and were translated into a student contract. It was impressive to listen to the student debate surrounding bonuses and lateness policies. Each student would receive a $100 bonus for an exceptional presentation and $100 bonus for never being late.
Shamere, Alexis, Brandon, and Azeem were never late. All students who presented received their bonus.
By week two, the students and adult members began the projects’ development. All the students took multi-intelligence and personality tests that analyzed their strengths and weaknesses in the prior week. They wrote many personal reflections on where they see themselves and the team progressing.
Four major ideas were pinpointed after much debate about inventing new green technology, including a solar powered ankle bracelet. Troy Scott, this one is for you.
The students wanted to increase the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus, build an electric scooter, design their ideal school, and a solar charging station. It was really sad to watch Ann’s hopes and dreams fall by the wayside as the students picked the fuel efficiency and school challenge. All Ann wanted was an electric scooter and a charging station. Teenagers never listen.
Justin Carter, Alexis Bland, Brandon Ford, and Shamere Palmer wanted to work on the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus. They worked extensively with Jerry D, Dr. Keith, Jerry “Disciplinarian” Perese, and Captain Ron. It was beautiful to see them organize an assembly line for repairing and replacing the Harley. Watching them learn programming with our Drexel engineers was a poetic sight.
The majority of their presentation revolved around their learning curve working with the two cars. Brandon had a difficult task of measuring a new pulley cullet, a piece that attaches the Harley to the electric motor. Brandon used a micrometer to measure the diameter of the piece and sketched it for the machine shop at Drexel University. He operated the lathe under the guidance of Drexel’s Master Machinist and Dr. Keith and the piece fit. It worked.
What was most interesting about all of this and something that I never thought before was that Brandon didn’t receive a B+ on this assignment or even an infamous check plus. “There is no grading scale for any of this,” Hauger said after the presentation. “It either works or doesn’t. It is either 100% or a zero. Brandon couldn’t wing it and expect the Harley to work. Now the hybrid drivetrain in the Focus is working and we can continue working on the fuel efficiency.” How wonderful is this form of assessment?! It is what project based learning strives for in authentic assessment.
Like Brandon, Justin and Alexis learned a lot about what needs to be accomplished in a group project dynamic. Justin could not get the turbo out of the GT. Over the course of two hours, he removed parts and yet his hands could not fit through the tiny spaces. Alexis was able to do it. “I have to admit that there was one point that I just wanted to rip it out,” said Alexis during her presentation. “My hands are smaller and yet I still had trouble.” Justin, 6’2”, gave up the glory to a female, 5’5”.
While Alexis and Justin were in the shop, Shamere and Brandon worked on the group’s power point and researched in depth the two drive cycles, X PRIZE and EPA. It was decided amongst the group to showcase the fuel efficiency of the EVX Focus using the EPA drive cycle, because it is well known and trusted amongst car buyers. I still have a little bitterness towards the drive cycle of the X PRIZE, no lie.
The six weeks quickly expired and the group wasn’t able to accomplish getting the hybrid on the road and testing the fuel economy with the new drive cycle. Parts had to be ordered, the Harley replaced, and the students had to balance researching, learning how to program with LabView, site visits, and listening to guest speakers.
Yet all four survived. Their numbers and attendance are laudable. Even Justin Carter, who was hit by a car, only missed one day of work.
The other group really suffered so much in attendance and personnel. Peter Mong and Danny Smith both fled the group mid-way through the six week project. Danny kept showing up late, and Peter was absent for two days without calling. It was an Agatha Christi novel at best. And then there were two, Azeem and Samantha.
Azeem and Sam had a two part project: write the program plan model for their ideal school and model what an ideal project based learning challenge would look like for students attending their school. They wanted to build a green roof and test the insulation and growth rate of plants.
A key insight Azeem noted in their presentation was “being able to keep the ideals of the EVX team and find a way to transform that into a regular school day.” Both Azeem and Sam mentioned the success of the team and how they want their regular school day to follow, but they said it is extremely difficult to determine what kind of school they wanted (public, charter, magnet) so that the school is successful. They wanted to design a curriculum that enables all students to participate and flourish in a project based setting even if the students don’t like mechanics or environmental training. Sam and Azeem wanted to build a green roof because that is where their interest lies.
“We hope to develop a school and projects that would get every student involved and solve real world problems,” said Sam.
Both students talked about the team’s new entry in the Ecomagination competition sponsored by GE. This “ideal” school is an entry for this competition that looks at three different ways people create, use, and connect to energy. How can our school be as close to self-sustaining as possible? How can our building become LEED certified? How can our curriculum address humanistic concerns and possibly solve them? How can the community surrounding the school build and grow in a green economy?
Sam and Azeem have the most work left to accomplish once the school year starts. Sam graduated from the Auto Academy two years ago and is currently taking classes at CCP. Azeem is going into his senior year. One of the challenges they recognized is bringing more students on the team and working with the adult members to outline their wants and goals for their “ideal” school.
The style of the presentation was very different to the other group. Sam and Azeem read a speech while Ann controlled the power point slides. The fuel efficiency group took turns presenting the slides and used index cards full of notes. Both presentations were very well presented and proved to an audience of teacher and outside community members that there is a lot left to do with this program and this group of students.
“When we came back from the X PRIZE, the adults had the same questions as the students, ‘What’s next?,’” said Azeem. “The adults turned to us and asked us what we wanted to do and where we saw this program going. Simon mentioned the Ecomagination project, but we really talked about it together and decided on the next steps together.”
Whenever you are asked to present your ideas in front of an audience, it is a pretty great thing.
Weekends in May and June are extremely eventful and always jammed packed.
Prom. Graduation and graduation parties. Working on hybrid cars in the shop.
(For the record: these are not listed in order of importance.)
Many of the seniors at the West Philadelphia Automotive Academy attended their senior prom on Friday night at the Hilton Hotel on City Line Ave. The young men were handsome, and the young ladies were lovely. The seniors of all the Academies (Business, Urban, and Automotive) celebrated a "Night in Hollywood." I would say the colors of the evening were red and purple. Jacques Wells, one of our mechanical members of the team, wore a bright red vest and white tux. The white tuxes are amazing. He looked so distinguished. Momo Shen was beautiful. She is on our public realtions team and wore a black sparkle A-line dress. She looked perfect. Her date, Maalik Wolfe, wore a black suit with a red shirt and black tie.
A couple of the seniors on the team didn't want to go to prom. Justin Carter said that since he was going to another prom with his girlfriend/shawty/beau that he felt like he didn't need to go to his. Sekou said that since it wasn't at a club that he didn't want to go. They both attended a fundraising event for the Schulykill Center that Friday night with Ann Cohen. (For the record: the event was not held at a club.)
Prom is very overwhelming. It could just be the worst and best thing about high school. It is an unrealistic night. I remember my junior and senior proms were just awful. I had to ask three boys to my junior prom before one said yes. That is so sad. I wouldn't even be able to tell you the last name of my senior prom date. But I always loved my dresses. The dresses were the best. Yet, they are so expensive. Now, there are all these amazing websites that allows you to donate your prom dresses or old bridesmaid dresses. The material is reused.
It was just so nice to see Momo and Jacques really happy. Ms. Hanlon, Ms. Ojeda, and I chaperoned for two hours and took tons of pictures. It was really nice to see them dressed up and happy. These next couple weeks for our seniors are going to be hard. We have seniors that are not on target to graduate. We have seniors that are giving the teachers are hard time with last minute assignments and exams. Some of them are terrified about what their summer and fall are going to look like. Others cannot wait to leave Philadelphia and start at Penn State campuses and other colleges and universities. Many of our seniors are going to summer sessions for CCP.
The next morning, Saturday, the shop was full of bodies. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done on both hybrid cars. Many of the guys were in the shop with Hauger and Co. Ann and Anita worked with students about fundraising ideas and sending out thank you notes to our sponsors and donors. I was in Baltimore, Maryland at a bridal shower for my cousin Katie. She is getting married in September. I know her china plate pattern.
Weekends in May and June are extremely busy. The weather turns warm and school is almost over. Ann, Simon, and I talk a lot about the students and how are we going to keep them focused through these next couple weeks. I think if we keep having more successful days like Saturday, we don't need to work much about student involvement. It will just happen. If our schedule during the week remains as busy, the students will have enough activities to go to keep them out of trouble. Outside School Time, Kaplan SAT, Tuesday meeting, and Saturday School happens every week.
And prom is over. The X Prize can regain its status in our lives.
Ride or Die
As the field narrows and we get closer to the knock-out round, I imagine all the teams are hearing this question more frequently. I also imagine that the answers vary as widely as the teams who are entered in this $10 million competition.
I started thinking seriously about this question over a year ago. Ann had just called me – she was having a melt-down, “What are we doing in this competition? We are in way over our heads.” I knew how to respond because I had struggled with the same feelings several times myself.
We are not a car company. The West Philly Hybrid X Team is made up of educators and students. We entered the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE not to launch a new car company, but to create an unparalleled educational experience for our students. We wanted to demonstrate the value of engaging kids – their creativity and their intellect – in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. We wanted to be a part of the collective push to revolutionize the automotive industry.
A year ago I realized, by that definition, we had already won. We engaged an amazing group of students to develop our vision about hybrid cars and how to improve urban air quality. We developed a business plan to manufacture our cars in our community and provide pipelines from high school to the good manufacturing jobs that Philadelphia needs. But more than that, we were being taken seriously. The local and national media were treating us as true contenders. Our students received unprecedented opportunities to speak at universities, national conferences and in the community. Sponsors and donors committed to support our vision and volunteers and students continued to pour tremendous time and effort into this project.
We have already won.
Most of you probably still want to know what we will do if we take first place and receive the millions. Well, stranger things have happened. And since I do believe in Divine intervention, I would never rule that out. However, the reality is that we are competing against teams of engineers, well-funded start-up companies and major universities.
Our goal is to ride the rollercoaster and show the world what an urban high school team is capable of. And when that ride comes to its end, we will begin work on our next dream – to start a school. We’ve learned a bit about hybrid vehicles over the past twelve years. We’ve learned a lot more about how to educate youth. The world is in need of 100 MPGe vehicles. Philadelphia needs new manufacturing jobs.
But, most of all, America is in desperate need of dynamic schools that work. We can’t wait to bring our winning team to that challenge.