Over the last twenty one years tens of thousands of Australian high school and primary students have participated in this hands-on science program. Each student experiences the excitement of competition and, almost without knowing it, fills his or her mind with knowledge.
The competitive spirit is an effective motivator and science, engineering and design & technology teachers all over Australia have classes filled with extraordinarily enthusiastic students building model solar cars and boats. Not only is the learning fun but the learning outcomes are tremendous. Teachers report how students motivated by the competition build an intuitive knowledge of the sciences that permeates the classroom.
It may be surprising but winning the national competition doesn't mean that you had the fastest or best model solar car on the day. Each team is interviewed and is given points for the answers to science based questions illustrating the team's understanding of how solar cells work, how motors sturn electricity into motion and why and how gears are used. The team is then interviewed regarding the merits and trade-offs of their design. A poster describing the team's work is also scored. At the end of the event these points are added to points given for the car's performance in the race and the winning team is the one with the most points.
Model solar boats are ideal for the younger students. These are far simpler to build but the thrill of competition and the learning outcomes are just as great.
The national event brings together all of the Australian state and territory champions and, when financially possible, top entries from other countries.
On the personal side, I have the privilege of having taught university students who have come through this program. This is a remarkable and fulfilling experience seeing these students in my classes.
Lastly, we are greatly appreciative of funding from our sponsors. It is only through the generous support of our national sponsors that this work can be done.