CE, Clean Energy, Bright Futures & the Bonneville Environmental Foundation
The program formerly known as “#Solar4rSchools” is now CE, Clean Energy, Bright Futures (@CEbrightfutures). You may, or may not, have heard of this program, and that’s okay. The program’s mission focuses on energy education and the role that better energy management can play in benefiting both our society and our world. CE has a number of initiatives focused around accomplishing these goals. These include, but are not limited to, developing teacher-friendly and standards-based curriculum, facilitating standards-based trainings and workshops, equipping teachers with resources, and networking teacher-leaders with like-minded educational professionals. Personally, I was introduced to the program through a week-long institute that combined and addressed all of these goals.
In a nut shell, CE prepares the next generation to lead a clean energy future. It is a career connected education program that trains educators to bring clean energy science and technology skills and knowledge to their students. Or, you can reference CE’s stated vision: powered by a clean energy economy, our communities and environment are thriving and resilient – in one generation.
Renewable Energy Leadership Institute
The “Renewable Energy Leadership Institute” focused on developing teacher knowledge, experience, and pedagogy around energy concepts. While, obviously, emphasizing renewable energy, the focus was not exclusive but certainly highlighted the need, urgency, and promise around this critical area. Over the course of one week, teachers were trained on different aspects of renewable energy and the electrical grid, the Next Generation Science Standards, possible curriculum for classroom implementation, and material resources that they’d be receiving for classroom instruction. The days included traditional “sit and get” informational sessions intertwined with discussions, hands-on learning activities, and challenges like creating a human circuit (pictured above), opportunities to work with other like-minded teachers from across the region, and curriculum development sessions. In total, nine school districts from across the region were represented with educators from all levels of K-12 instruction. We teamed together to learn, connect, and grow our abilities to teach standards-based lessons on energy.
Day 1: Getting to Know You and Energy Generation
The first day of any new adventure is always exciting, and the Renewable Energy Leadership Institute with CE was no exception. We started out with the usual introductions and learned about our colleagues with whom we’d be collaborating. We also did an interesting activity with solar power focused around using microscopes to literally burn an inscription into a piece of balsa wood. We expanded our exploration of harvesting energy from the sun with a solar oven challenge. Beyond solar energy, we had a visit from a doctoral student who’s work focused around analyzing the structural integrity of whale blubber with an emphasis on Orcas (apparently, this involves shooting lasers at whale fat among other things… very cool). More practically, we looked at, learned about, and used 3D-printed wave energy generators. This allowed for an intriguing way to hook our interest and explore the possibilities of applying energy education in new and unique ways in our classroom. After day one, I think we were all excited for what the rest of the week had in store.
Day 2: Solar Power and the Transmission Grid
We started off the day with a new twist on an old challenge: spaghetti towers. However, we had some additional constraints and success criteria involved because we simulated transmission towers. Overall, we looked at the role that engineering and building materials play in developing the electrical grid. This encouraged a natural reference to and incorporation of the new engineering standards here in WA. We then shifted into solar power. We looked at opportunities for curriculum integration and standards-based applications. Together, we learned more about how to successfully implement solar-power lessons in the normally cloudy Puget Sound region of Washington State. We also began exploring more complex electrical concepts of measurement such as voltage, coulombs, amperes, watts, joules, and more. We finalized our deeper dive into renewable energy education with an in-depth analysis of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS were front and center in my mind all week because this is the first year WA goes live across all grade levels with the new standards. Energy is a central concept to all branches of science, and as a result rightly considered one of the seven Crosscutting Concepts (Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation). At the K-5 level, 4th grade alone has four standards directly focused on energy along with several others related to energy. Needless to say, energy concepts are central to science education and vital to solving a large number of worldwide problems.
Day 3: Solar-Power Cars and Hydropower
Our first activity on day three was to jump into building and racing solar-powered model cars. While a fun way to engage our interest first thing in the morning, this activity carried with it the same analysis of the previous day’s activities. Again, this highlighted the role that the NGSS engineering standards play in our electrical grid as well as the renewable energy industry. We also expanded beyond this to look at electrical usage analysis with special tools that measure power output form a common electrical outlet. This leads to all sorts of interesting applications as students look for ways to reduce energy waste. This was also our field trip day because our afternoon would be spent visiting a local hydro-electric dam and learning about the electrical grid and infrastructure for the local region. We previewed our trip, reviewed concepts covered so far this week, and established “look fors” while on site. The dam itself was very cool. The generators were large, but not necessarily as large as I would have expected. Most educational for me was how automated the subsystem was, and in addition to this the overall regional electrical system. The computer onsite allowed users to access all sorts of information, and we learned quite a bit about the challenging task of managing power supply and demand across the electrical grid. The entire experience increased my respect for the workers and also crystalized the need for storage options since having to match supply exactly to demand is tricky at best.
Day 4: Battery Creation and Energy Storage
We welcomed quite a few experts into our midst today. A panel made up of UW students, professors from UW Clean Energy Institute, and alumni professionals presented information about the needs for supporting energy education at all levels as well as facilitated questions from the teachers. This was helpful in order to establish a feeling of perspective and mostly emphasized themes of educational need present throughout the week. We also welcomed a UW professor who educated us on energy storage. The main activity associated with this involved creating batteries of our own with raw materials. This was arguably the most unique experience of the week for me, and additionally powerful because of the integration of chemistry and material sciences with energy concepts and standards. The applications to energy transfer and transformation instruction were significant—not to mention the recurring theme of engineering standards and the design process. We used copper and aluminum as well as a solution of saltwater to facilitate a chemical reaction with oxygen and transform chemical energy into electrical energy. A little charcoal helped to encourage the level and strength of the exchange. By daisy-chaining several of these home-made batteries together we were able to power LED bulbs. The focus was on aluminum-oxide batteries which offer immense energy-storage potential, and which we may one day soon see in our electric cars.
Day 5: Programming the Electrical Grid
We left with several boxes full of materials and the task of detailing the remaining materials that we’d need. We also had the beginnings of a lesson plan outlined to implement with our students. All of the teachers now had a new-found appreciation for the overlap between engineering and renewable energy science and concepts. Now, we just have to figure out how to make this happen in our respective locations and settings. How, you ask? Well, we don’t know yet, but that will be an interesting story that I’m excited to share with you when the time comes!
In the meantime, if you want to know more about the CE program and Bonneville Environmental Foundation, or even get involved, then there are a number of ways to do this. CE’s website is listed below as is their contact information. You can also reach out to our major sponsor from the week, Boeing, and let them know how important this work is for our schools. Encouraging funding for future programs is critical to growing the work. Teachers can be vocal advocates for spreading this work to their districts and partnering with CE in regards to one of their many educational programs. As a teacher, you can apply for the 2018 renewable energy research institute. You can also message or shout out to me (@DaskalosDouglas) or CE (@CEbrightfutures) on Twitter. Ultimately, energy and renewable energy research and policy will determine the future of our society and planet so there are few educational tasks with greater impact that you can become involved in today.
Helpful Links and Resources
Related Post on Engineering Future Engineers: http://corelaboratewa.org/engineering-future-engineers/
Related Post on Science March: http://corelaboratewa.org/marching-for-mother-earth/
Related Post on WA Fellowships (including science & engineering): http://corelaboratewa.org/engineering-a-fellowship/
2017 Renewable Energy Leadership Institute Overview: http://www.solar4rschools.org/leadership
2018 Renewable Energy Leadership Institute Preview: http://www.cebrightfutures.org/apply-support-renewable-energy-education
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Website: http://www.nextgenscience.org/
NGSS Crosscutting Concept of Energy: http://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/default/files/resource/files/Appendix
NGSS 4th grade energy standards: http://www.nextgenscience.org/dci-arrangement/4-ps3-energy
NGSS Engineering Standards: http://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/default/files/resource/files/Appendix
The National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project: http://www.need.org/
Engineering Fellows (WA STEM & WA MESA): http://www.washingtonstem.org/engineering
Boeing Education Page: http://www.boeing.com/principles/education.page
BEF & CE would love to hear from you: CEbrightfutures@b-e-f.org or 503-553-3950