SHS students design power plants for physics

Sherman High School physics students faced a unique challenge Wednesday — presenting a panel of three judges with a proposal for a theoretical new power plant to be built in the city. SHS physics teacher Kenric Davies gave the project to his three 11th grade pre-advanced placement classes to go along with the electromagnetism unit they started last week.

Students from the classes were divided into 15 groups of four to five participants, with each individual having a different role in constructing the power plant — like architect, engineer or planner. The groups have worked on their projects in class every day since it was assigned with Davies pulling aside different project members each day to go over some finer points they needed to know for their role.

“So every day they were able to work on it, do research and I got them in the right direction with some things,” Davies said. “The rest of it was up to them. I didn’t give them a whole lot to work with, I gave them the restrictions and then I said go for it. They picked the energy source they wanted to use. Of course, for the most part, no matter what energy source you use it all boils down to a single concept, and that’s a coil of wires spinning around a magnet or vice versa.”

Davies then brought in two outside experts to help him judge the projects and pick winners — Sherman City Engineer Clay Barnett and Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative CEO David McGinnis. Students spent Wednesday morning presenting their proposals — along with a working model — to the judges during individual sessions in the school’s Little Theater. Most of the students chose wind energy to power their plants, but judges also saw proposals for nuclear, natural gas, water- and solar-powered plants.

Daniel Pressley, Jacob Rush and Sam Pitts called their group “Power to the People” and chose wind energy as their power source.

“We looked at a lot of them,” Pitts said of the different options. “Solar panels seemed too expensive. If we’d chosen hydroelectric, we would have had to rezone our entire plant away from the industrial areas, and we’re not in a geothermal hotspot, so this was the only real plausible, renewable energy source.”

Power to the People also went formal for their presentation, wearing black suits with ties.

“I figured if we spent this much time on it, we might as well go all out,” Pitts said. “And when people give proposals in real life they dress up.”

“When you dress up, people just pay attention to you,” Rush added.

Their sharp attire did not go unnoticed by the judges.

“I think, by far, they were probably the best dressed,” Davies said of the teenagers. “Most of the groups have been taking it seriously and have come up in some pretty nice attire, but those were the first tuxedos.”

The GreEnergy group surprised the judges with their pitch for a nuclear-powered plant. Group member Madeleine Nikirk said it took some convincing to get her group to go along with the choice, but was successful after telling them of her experience visiting with a foreign exchange student her family hosted last year.

“What her mom does is, she works at a nuclear power plant, she’s one of the engineers,” Nikirk said. “And I was like, ‘That’s so unsafe. That’s scary.’ She convinced me it’s really so much safer than people think it is and it’s got a really bad reputation, but there’s absolutely zero emissions, and if you do it right it’s an incredible amount of energy.”

The judges called GreEnergy’s presentation was one of the best they’d seen, but said all the students turned in good work.

“The presentations have been excellent,” Barnett said “We’ve seen several different types of power generation and they’ve all been very interesting.”

“I’ve been real impressed with the kids,” McGinnis said. “I’ve been real impressed with the fact that they can stand up here in front of two cameras, three or four strangers and basically give a presentation over something they’ve researched for a week.”

The cameras were for a Region 10 Education Service Center project in which Davies is participating.

“(Region 10 is) trying to come up with a repository of projects and units, what they call authentic learning,” Davies said. “This project is designed to put into context what the (students) might be encountering in the real world — not necessarily in physics, but also in problem solving, working in groups and things like that.”

This was the first time the physics teacher has attempted a project on this scale, and while he’d like to do another one next year it won’t be the same assignment.

“I just don’t want to do the same thing every year,” Davies said. “We’ll do a project like this next year, but it’ll be over a different concept. Maybe I’ll circle back in a few years and do this project again.”