MCCSC Experiments with Lights Out district-wide

From its modest beginnings in Angela Harding’s second grade class at Marlin this spring, the Lights Out campaign is moving on out into potentially every school in Monroe County. The Monroe County Energy Challenge’s Education Committee, which is facilitating this initiative, will make elementary and high school lesson plans available to any teacher in the county who wants to join in this part of the Energy Challenge.

The first to start is MCCSC, which has approved Lights Out as an optional activity for all district classrooms. For the three weeks before fall break, MCCSC environmental technician Dean Walendzak will measure how much electricity each school building uses under ordinary conditions.

Then for three weeks after fall break, teachers and students who choose to participate in the experiment will turn out some or all of the overhead lights when they are not needed. Energy consumption will be measured as before. Comparing the two data sets will show what difference the energy-aware Lights Out activities make.

This 6-week trial builds upon an experiment that students in Amanda Figolah’s AP Environmental Science class at BHSS conducted this spring. The students started from the fact that using artificial lighting accounts for approximately 50% of all electricity use at BHSS. They posed the question, “What could influence people to cut that level of consumption in half?” This target level was chosen because if it could be reached consistently for a year, it would save the school enough to hire another teacher.

The students formed a hypothesis and designed a plan to test it. They recruited 97% of the BHSS teachers to opt in at some level. The experiment ran for only one week (plus one control week) but it produced a statistically significant reduction in energy consumption, though less than they aimed for.

In a follow-up survey, the BHSS team found that only half the students sampled knew about the campaign while it was happening, though three-fourths preferred the dimmer lights. Since the difficulty of raising awareness over such a short time period was a major factor limiting their success, the current experiment will last three times as long.

In addition, it will receive much more exposure. Posters colored by elementary students will be used to promote the Lights Out initiative throughout MCCSC as well as in city and county offices.  In addition, participants are invited to promote the Lights Out idea on Facebook and Twitter by #btownlightsout Hopefully, students will bring the idea home to their parents who are also invited to share their participation @SouthSage @mocoenergy @MCCSC_EDU.