Simon Hauger and Azeem Hill on education, cooperation, and bad-ass hybrids

Post updated 1/26/11.
Check out Simon Hauger and Azeem Hill’s talk about the West Philly Hybrid XTeam from PopTech 2010.

Original post published 10/23/10.

The West Philly Hybrid XTeam came this close (thumb and forefinger ever so narrowly spaced) to winning the Progressive Automotive XPRIZE’s $10 million prize this year.

Azeem Hill and Simon Hauger

The XTeam’s amazing run through the semi-finals brought the West Philadelphia High School students who make up the team, their teacher/coaches, and their mentor Simon Hauger much deserved attention and accolades (they even got props from President Obama).

And while winning the prize would have been awesome, the program’s real value is in the way it has changed team members’ educational experience.

Azeem Hill and Simon Hauger

Hauger and team co-captain Azeem Hill, a senior at West Philly, took the stage Saturday to share the XTeam story and offer insights they’ve gained over the years. Hauger, who came to teaching from a career in engineering, started the team as an afterschool project for students who wanted a hands-on science experience.

The team’s first entry was a prize-winning solar go-cart, which was followed by a solar Jeep, and then in 2001, West Philly beat MIT to win the Tour de Sol after being the first team of color to compete in the contest in 2000. They built a “bad-ass hybrid” in 2005 and won, painted it a different color and won again in 2006 (beating MIT at this point had become rote).

The XPrize challenge was to build a car that got 100 miles per gallon equivalent. “We built two cars for the XPrize,” Hill explained. “We wanted to show that we could do it with off the shelf American technology.” The team built a Ford GT that goes from zero to 60 in five seconds and gets around 70 mpg on the highway. “We had a shoestring budget, a dozen high school students, a couple of teachers, and a dream. We beat MIT again.”

Hauger was adamant about the effectiveness of his approach to teaching. “It’s really about finding what kids’ interests and passions are and tapping into that,” he said. “If we continue to shove more content into schools and not give kids more space, we’re not going to see any systemic change.”

Hill added, “We need schools that develop leaders and problem solvers not test takers. That’s how you solve the dropout problem.”

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)


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