Maui teacher wins grant for electric car
Seabury Hall students will help convert a vehicle from gasoline to battery power
Building a car that runs on electricity is not just a classroom exercise to Maui teacher Martin Emde -- just look at soaring gas prices and mounting environmental challenges.
For his proposal to build an electric car, the Seabury Hall math and science teacher recently won a $10,000 grant from the Toyota TAPESTRY program, co-sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association. The grant, recognizing Emde for his "excellence and innovation in science education," will enable him to offer the car class during the 2006-2007 school year.
Emde said he thinks his proposal won attention for its relevance to environmental and political issues. "It is very timely," he said.
If his students pursue engineering careers, "they can take their knowledge (of building an electric car) with them and help solve problems in the world," he said. He also hopes to charge the car with solar energy and install a solar charging station at the school.
Emde, born on Oahu but raised on Maui, was one of only 50 U.S. teachers chosen to receive the prestigious grant in April. Proposals were judged on environmental science, physical science and applications of science that promote literacy.
A former electrical engineer for Boeing in Seattle, Emde was hired as a math teacher at Seabury Hall in Makawao 10 years ago. But after two years of working primarily with a blackboard and textbooks, Emde said he wanted to offer his students more "hands-on and real-world" experience.
For the following five years, he taught a class geared toward Hawaiian Electric Co.'s electric car marathon, which challenges students to design and build their own car from scratch -- using spare parts, then racing their cars against other schools' to see which one runs the longest.
But this past year, the competition was offered with support and funds from HECO, and Emde wanted to keep offering the class next year. And he wanted to take it one step further and convert a real automobile from gasoline to electric. Hence the idea for the Toyota grant.
In the beginning of a typical class, averaging about a dozen boys and girls, Emde has found that most of his students "don't have the foggiest idea" about building anything. "They've never used a power tool or even a handsaw in their life," he said. It's rather like teaching shop instead of engineering, he added, but by the end of the course, they are "very proficient."
Inexperience will not be the biggest stumbling block, Emde said. It takes a long time before they learn to work as a team, to take a deadline seriously and do their part -- "and that's a real-world situation."
In other classes, if they do not do their homework on time, only they are affected, but in Emde's class, "they will see very quickly that things will fall apart if they drop the ball."
The project will begin with buying tools and setting up a machine shop, something the small private school does not have. This should use the entire amount of the grant money, so a fair amount of the course will be spent raising another $10,000 for parts and to buy a car if they cannot get one donated, he said.