CPS teams up with NASCAR for design competition, race car-themed curriculum

The competition will challenge 22,000 K-12 students in 43 STEM schools to design a driving helmet. CPS will also integrate a NASCAR-themed science unit into its 8th-grade curriculum next year.

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Students from Wadsworth STEM Elementary School on the South Side listen during a news conference Tuesday at the Field Museum to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race. NASCAR also announced that it would partner with Chicago Public Schools to create a design competition and curriculum to promote careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

Students from Wadsworth STEM Elementary School on the South Side listen during a news conference Tuesday at the Field Museum to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race. NASCAR also announced that it would partner with Chicago Public Schools to create a design competition and curriculum to promote careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When NASCAR announced last year it would host a street race in Grant Park this summer, the racing giant built a permanent office in Chicago and said it would lay roots here.

NASCAR appeared to move forward on that promise Tuesday by announcing that the racing giant and Chicago Public Schools will create a design competition and curriculum to promote careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

In the Field Museum’s main hall, Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. explained the benefits of studying STEM to dozens of CPS students.

“I get to drive the race cars, but there’s a lot of people that helped make what I do ... possible,” said Stenhouse Jr., who won Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway.

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. speaks during a news conference Tuesday at the Field Museum to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race. NASCAR also announced that it would partner with Chicago Public Schools to create a design competition and curriculum to promote careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. speaks during a news conference Tuesday at the Field Museum to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race. NASCAR also announced that it would partner with Chicago Public Schools to create a design competition and curriculum to promote careers in STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The competition will challenge 22,000 K-12 students in 43 STEM schools to design a driving helmet. Students, in groups, will receive kits with materials and design helmets that address safety, communication and ventilation, according to a joint statement from CPS and NASCAR.

Finalists will compete in a championship round May 2 at the Field Museum, where NASCAR drivers and engineers will be on hand. Winners get tickets to the Chicago Street Race on July 1 and 2.

The challenge “will give them a hands-on learning experience that will complement what they’ve been learning this school year,” said Mary Beck, CPS’ acting chief of teaching and learning.

CPS will also integrate a NASCAR-themed science unit into its 8th-grade curriculum next year.

The curriculum, still a work in progress between CPS STEM faculty and NASCAR engineers, will task students with creating design proposals to address real-word challenges.

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. signs autographs for Chicago Public Schools students outside the Field Museum after a news conference Tuesday to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race.

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. signs autographs for Chicago Public Schools students outside the Field Museum after a news conference Tuesday to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

That challenge will likely be about addressing safety in a street race, according to ​​Kelli Easterly, executive director of STEM at CPS.

Some 8th-graders will visit the site of the Chicago Street Race to capture data that will be included in the curriculum.

Earlier this month, NASCAR officials said the race in Grant Park could infuse $113 million into the local economy. The 12-turn, 2.2-mile course will close parts of DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Drive and Michigan Avenue.

NASCAR officials have said Chicago is seen as a potential market for the 75-year-old racing franchise. Although most of the expected 100,000 attendees to July’s race will be from out of town, Chicago itself ranks third in terms of interest in NASCAR, Chicago Street Race President Julie Giese told the Sun-Times earlier in February.

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. signs autographs and takes a photo with Chicago Public Schools students outside the Field Museum after a news conference Tuesday to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race.

Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. signs autographs and takes a photo with Chicago Public Schools students outside the Field Museum after a news conference Tuesday to promote the upcoming NASCAR Chicago Street Race.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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