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Hands-on in the real world

Learning about simple machines has 53 students in Talent Middle School’s Design and Innovation STEM program building 12 electric bikes that will be auctioned off to fund program needs. Cummins new power unit business in Talent made the program possible by securing a grant of about $19,000.

“Cummins came to us last spring and asked how we could form a partnership. They are doing battery work right now,” said teacher Heather Armstrong. The company wanted to do something involving batteries and came up with the conversion bike process in a brainstorming session.

Students completed assembly of the basic bikes over three days this week. Next week they will begin installing the electric conversion kits. They are following procedures developed by Cummins personnel, who built one bike and documented the process.

Armstrong is using the program to teach about simple machines, their mechanical advantages, force, proportion, standards and other scientific and engineering concepts. The Design and Innovation program is now in its fifth year and gives seventh- and eighth-graders a different way to gain education that emphasizes hands-on experiences.

Each bike has four or five students working on it split into two teams that work at different times.

Jayden Vos, an eighth-grader, was assembling a bike for the first time, working with seventh-grader Genesis Orozco. They were waiting to get hold of an eight-millimeter Allen wrench, one of the tools from a shared collection, to move onto the next step.

“We leave notes on the procedures we’ve just finished. We leave notes if anything else needs to be finished,” said Jayden. One note said the other team members had installed the brakes, but the pair noticed something wasn’t quite right.

“Clearly the brakes shifted, so we had to put them back,” said Jayden.

“I’ve done mechanical things, but bikes are new,” said eighth-grader Kaeden Shrader. “The building is pretty straightforward.”

“I think installing the electric stuff will be a bit harder,” said Shrader’s partner, seventh-grader Owen Champagne.

“I liked putting on the seat, because you had to grease the end,” said Brayden Decker, a seventh-grader. “I’m into scootering. I’ve put together scooters.”

“They have to follow the procedure that Cummins put together and leave comments to the next group as to how they did,” said Armstrong. “It’s a real-world experience.”

Cummins bought the former Brammo electric propulsion operation in Talent in 2017. Cummins has always emphasized community involvement, said Daniel Cooke, site leader for the business’s community involvement team in Talent, and who works in production control.

Once the electric bike project was envisioned, the grant was secured through the Cummins Foundation. Cummins worked with the district and Ashland Electric Bike to secure the kits.

“It’s been a group effort all the way around,” said Cooke. About 40 of the 70 on-site personnel have been involved so far, volunteering about 190 hours, with another 70 hours anticipated before completion of the bikes.

“We speced out the equipment that they ended up with. They were looking at lower price points online,” said Jerry Solomon, owner of Ashland Eclectic Bike. “I wanted them to be really durable and safe. Once they are done, my mechanic will go over there and go over every bike and make sure it is done properly and is safe.”

“We have that really skilled technician in our corner at all times to go to with questions,” Cooke said of the Ashland company.

The North Bay Sun bikes normally retail for $410, while the cost of the Das-Kit R3 electric conversion kit is $1,100. Electric Bike was able to give a discount on the purchases. Other expenses were for tools, bike assembly stands and helmets. Each bike has its own eight-piece tool kit, and there are four shared eight-piece tool kits.

Program students went to Cummins in early February to put together the work stands. They had toured the engineering and production facility in October.

“We have built simple machines before, but we have never built bikes,” said Armstrong. “The bikes are kind of a culminating project.”

Problems were encountered Wednesday replacing the standard kickstand with a stronger one designed to support the extra weight of the electric motor and battery pack. A bolt from the old unit didn’t appear long enough to secure the new kickstands.

“This is part of the troubleshooting. That’s what you do when you have problems,” said Armstrong. “It makes it fun. It makes it interesting.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneHeather Armstrong helps Talent Middle School students build electric bikes Thursday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneHeather Armstrong helps Talent Middle School students build electric bikes Thursday afternoon.