Future of Fast Program Accelerates in Baltimore

The partnership between INDYCAR and Project Lead The Way kicked into high gear last week in Baltimore with the first PLTW-designed, racing-themed Future of Fast at-track event. Held Thursday and Friday in advance of the Grand Prix of Baltimore, eight Baltimore-area schools brought over 260 students to experience all of the science, technology, engineering, and math that go into the 220-mile-per-hour world of INDYCAR racing.

The Future of Fast Program includes a series of five learning segments (called “pods”) designed for middle school students that focus on different aspects of INDYCAR racing – the engine, the car, fuel, tires, and safety. Students circle through the various pods, learning a brief lesson or history of the sport, and then participate in a hands-on activity that shows them how STEM concepts apply to the topic.

One of the favorite activities was related to safety. Students inspected a real helmet, heat-resistant shoes, a fire suit, and the safety wall that separates the track from the spectators, learning just how much engineering goes into keeping drivers, and fans, safe. Instructors – PLTW staff and teachers from around the Baltimore area – then gave students a bucket of items – index cards, paper, straws, a piece of foam, tape, and glue – and asked them to design and build their own safer barrier that would create the most deceleration for a car upon impact.

Eighth-grade student Mallory Harris says the activity was eye-opening. “It’s pretty cool, because you don’t really think about all of that; you just think of racecars. Now, I’ll think about how much work is put into creating a safe and fast car.”

Among those in attendance was PLTW President and CEO Vince Bertram, who talked with students about the extension of their PLTW experience in the classroom to the at-track event. He says the Future of Fast Program is a great way to spark students’ questioning.

“There is a big difference between being an observer and a spectator and being able to analyze the nuances of a sport,” Bertram said. “When we’re talking about speed or aerodynamics, keeping cars on the ground – how does that really work? We want students asking those questions; we want them to be curious, not only about INDYCAR, but by using INDYCAR, to get curious about their existence. When they get on an airplane, we want them to ask, ‘How does it work?’ and understand the drag, aerodynamics, the lift. Their PLTW classes will continue this curiosity and learning.”

The program continues with a second at-track event in Houston, Texas, on October 4, and two weeks later in Fontana, Calif. PLTW schools within a 60-mile radius of each track location have been invited to bring their students to participate. Next year, the goal is to deliver the Future of Fast Program at every North American INDYCAR race, showing thousands of students how important math and science are to the activities and sports they enjoy.

“It’s a great way to explore something they never really think about,” said Montgomery Village Middle School teacher Jennifer Shapiro. “Now I will go back and say ‘Wow, look at all the math you needed to do, look at the design aspect of the things we were looking at.’ Making those connections across the board is going to make a big impact on the way they view education.”