One of the recent complaints about today’s high-tech automobiles is that new generations may never learn simple automotive routines, such as changing a spare tire, replacing a fuse or changing the oil. A New Jersey high-school teacher is changing the narrative, though, by bringing an electric car into his shop class.
This wasn’t an overnight decision for Ron Grosinger. He had been seeing the auto shop class decline in importance since he took over in 2005, in light of a curriculum meant to prepare high-schoolers for college academics instead of vocations, and the fact that shop is cost-intensive. Meanwhile, the real world was starting to struggle with a decline in auto mechanics.
In 2008, he approached administrators with the idea of teaching his 27 students how to convert an engine car to a motor car.
“If you’re teaching students about gasoline cars, that’s basically the equivalent of 8-track players,” says Grosinger. “With the electric car, I wanted to prove two things. First, that we could convert it. Everyone was telling me at the time that it was impossible when really, we just didn’t have the option yet. Second, and most important, I wanted to prove that kids are super capable. You just have to give them a chance.”
Grosinger had just completed an intensive 2-week course on EV-conversion, and saw the opportunity to teach his students applied science and engineering principles in an automotive context. The schools backed him on the purchase of a 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet, technically a pretty simple lightweight vehicle (giving it a leg up in accepting the heavy battery) with parts that were readily available.
Over time, the class completely gutted the car as they learned to produce various mechanical parts out of carboard, then wood and finally steel. They welded parts, ran wiring and solved problems as they came across them, as they put the car back together.
He also saw the program expand since the first year, when there were two teachers (downsized at the time from six), to the point were there are now four teachers and an after-school extra-curricular automotive program. Several of his past students have gone on to careers in the automotive field.
The program has also garnered awards of grant money that has gone into updating or purchasing new equipment, such as 3D printers.
Grosinger also noticed that the make-up of the classes had evolved year to year, as more advanced math, science, physics and engineering students (including many more girls) signed up for class. One of his goals is to get the male/female ration up to 50:50.
“The girls in my classes are amazing engineers,” says Grosinger. “Through hands-on learning, I hope they are encouraged to maintain and broaden their interest in STEM careers.
“Teachers should encourage students to explore new and more efficient ways to move a person from point A to point B, whether that system is a train with solar panels on it, a car with an electric motor in it or retrofitting an existing technology with a different energy source,” concludes Grosinger.