The students crouched down at the makeshift starting line readying their cars for launch.
"On your mark, get set, go!" their teacher DeAnna Molloy shouted.
And like that the cars were off -- some more quickly than others.
The Friday race involved solar-powered cars that about 100 eighth-graders at Tyler ISD's Hubbard Middle School created.
The exercise was a part of the students' science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) class where they have been learning about renewable energy.
"It's a cool learning opportunity to be hands-on," eighth-grader Emily Johnson, 13, said of the project.
The cars, each about the length of a small mousetrap, consisted of a small piece of wood, two sets of wheels, an axle, a motor and one or two solar panels connected to the motor by cables. The students spent about one week working on the project.
"I thought it was really fun and it was a really good learning experience," Amber Brown, 14, said. "We get to learn a little bit about natural energy and making things."
The project was made possible through a $5,100 grant from the Tyler ISD Foundation. It is one of several funded through the grant aimed to increase students' awareness of the need for alternative energy sources and help them use creative thinking.
About 300 Hubbard seventh- and eighth-graders are participating in grant-funded projects.
Ms. Molloy said she likes to incorporate a lot of engineering projects into her STEM class, which is a semester-long elective.
Projects include making water turbines to power light bulbs, making kites and running levitation cars, the latter of which work through opposing magnets.
Students also created mosaics with tiles and will create display boards about alternative energy forms. The students have been studying that topic.
Ms. Molloy said she gives her students a lot of creative license so they can learn how to design and think outside the box, which will benefit them down the road. She also works to connect the concepts taught in class to the real world.
"They're going to be the generation that uses these types of energy," she said of her students.
Larry Goddard, Tyler ISD Foundation executive director, said this project shows how students can be engaged.
Rather than just putting together a car, they had to make choices about design and how that would affect speed.
"Not only are they learning in the classroom, but they are coming up with creative and innovative ideas," Goddard said. "It's not just building a ca
r from a kit, it's also using your mind to see how much better it can be."
He said he likes the idea of turning the project into a competition because that motivates students, but in the process, they learn about aerodynamics, solar energy and other concepts.
"This is the creative and competitive generation and if we don't reach them with projects that are creative and competitive we are going to lose this generation, so I'm very proud," Goddard said.
Students said they liked the hands-on nature of the activity and the ability to put actual concepts into practice.
Sergio Hurtado's car placed first in the race followed by Cody Clark's.
Sergio, 14, said he thinks the two solar panels on his car gave it the edge. Many students had only one panel. He also cut his wood piece into a forklike shape, making it lighter and, in his opinion, more aerodynamic.
Cody, 14, said cutting down his wooden piece made his car lighter something he believes contributed to its speed. He said he's seen how race cars are designed and modeled his piece after those.
He also glued his solar panel flat on the base which he thought helped to make his car faster.
"I really liked it," he said of the project. "I think this is my favorite (project) that we've done so far."
Ms. Molloy said part of her class is about exposing students to potential career fields. She said she tries to do that through the projects.
"I try to relate every project to something that's going to happen in the future," Ms. Molloy said.
Hubbard Middle School students react as their solar cars stall near the starting line of the first race on Friday. (Staff Photo By Christopher R. Vinn)