“Our country’s skills gap has to be filled…and it starts with CTE.”

Michael Ales and OSTC NW students

TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGY students at Oakland Schools Technical Campus Northwest (OSTC) in Clarkston took first place at the 2015 Autorama Pedal Car Competition with their Munsters-themed coffin dragster. Pedal cars are toddler-sized vehicles that are built frame-up to actual auto industry specifications. High schools students in automotive technology programs across Michigan spent approximately 3 months working on each of the cars, which were displayed and judged at Detroit’s premier custom car event at Cobo Center, March 6-8.

To get their car ready-to-pedal, OSTC NW students practiced project management and collaborated to:

  • Come up with a pedal car concept
  • Create a model drawing
  • Build a car model out of cardstock
  • Take measurements off of the paper model, expand it and re-build it out of metal (body and frame are built separately)
  • Bend, sand, weld and paint the car parts

At OSTC Northwest, the pedal car process is mentored by Instructor Michael Ales and his team of experienced assistants. Ales offers his students ‘best practice’ examples, guides them to find solutions and encourages their passion to learn.

“My pedal car project goal was not to be the ‘pinewood derby dad’,” Ales said. “I wanted students to have as much input as possible.”

“Students use lots of engineering concepts and problem-solving during the process. Their questions get met with questions. I provided guidance and the students created an open roadster street racer.

The principles that students use on pedal cars are the same strategies they would use on regular cars in the manufacturing world. These small vehicles capture the students’ imagination – creating a complete pedal car start-to-finish is a highly motivating factor for teens, and an attainable goal.

We’ve expanded and are building a second, high school student-sized pedal car. Students are looking forward to ‘pedal- racing’ the bigger vehicle on Awards Day!”

Oakland Schools

The Millennial Mindset

Mr. Ales pointed out a shift in Career and Technical Education (CTE) instruction – one that fosters creative thinking and leads to blue ribbon-winning automotive projects:

“We used to teach tech skills piece-meal, but the millennial student is NOT motivated by small projects – they are comfortable with backward design. They like to be handed the big project goal and then learn the steps to successfully complete the goal. So instead of teaching a project in small pieces, we now teach our students HOW to LEARN. When our students find a tutorial on YouTube, for example, we teach them how to differentiate good and bad resources. It’s experiential ‘discovery’ learning, where a student finds an interest and develops ability and specific skills – and importantly, learns what he or she doesn’t know! This non-linear process can be messy, but it’s not unorganized. Our environment at OSTC gives students the space to develop critical thinking skills.

We are actually doing what Career and Technical Education has done for decades, but the learning has changed from being instructor-driven to being student-centered.”

Oakland Schools

OSTC NW Pedal Team (A.M. students)


“Our students and instructors are transforming community perception of CTE,” Ales continued.

“Technical education used to be known as a place for kids who had difficulty on the traditional high school path. Today’s 21st century CTE requires, to quote Mark Perna, founder of Tools for Schools, the Right Students, in the Right Programs, for the Right Reasons.” OSTC high school students graduate and successfully continue their education in several arenas – as college-students, in the military, and as highly-skilled trade apprentices.”

“Our country’s skills gap has to be filled…and it starts with CTE.”

Pedal ON!

Oakland Schools

Image by Mary Beth VanBuskirk

More Information

Oakland Schools Technical Campuses 

Detroit Autorama 2015 (via Brian Brennan & Hot Rod Network)

Mark Perna’s Tools for Schools

Oakland Schools

Blog Editor: Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


 Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000

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