Pam Cunningham recently completed an Energy unit with her 3rd/4th graders at The Project School (TPS). Yes, they do have a lot of energy at that age, but this class was about electricity.
It kicked off with a classroom visit from three SIREN (Solar Indiana Renewable Energy Network) members – Arvind Gopu, Lavanya Pashikanti and Anne Hedin – who came in to talk about where electricity comes from.
Pam followed up with a fun exercise she learned from the MCEC fall workshop on energy. Students tried to guess how much electricity various small appliances use – a hairdryer, phone charger a lamp. Then Pam plugged the appliances into a handheld energy monitor to reveal the actual amount, along with the dollar cost and carbon emissions from generating that amount of electricity from fossil fuels.
Students learned to use the energy monitors on their own to take readings for plug-in things all around the school – including the aquaponics tanks used for science projects. (You can try this experiment at home; the public library loans out energy monitors with instructions.) They began turning off the lights whenever possible and watched for the impact on the school’s utility bills.
Pam says, “The kids were very excited and tracked lights-out time school-wide for a whole month, and sure enough, the results were lower than the month before. But then they compared their results with the same month’s electricity usage last year, and this year’s results were higher. That was disappointing and puzzling. So we dug deeper and found out what accounted for the difference. The aquaponics tanks were new this year. We also used to have a catering service for lunches, but this year we put in freezer and oven to prepare lunches in the building. So we used more electricity year over year, but turning lights out took the edge off the increases.”
The first Energy unit ended by reaching out to parents directly. On a cold March evening, Molly O’Donnell, who chairs Residential Committee of the Monroe County Energy Challenge, came to Pam’s classroom to offer parents the opportunity to sign up for a free home energy assessment. Molly also demonstrated how to use the energy saving tools and supplies that come in the weatherization and energy efficiency kits funded by the Joyce Foundation grant. Each family received a kit to take home.
Looking back, looking forward
Thinking back over the completed unit, Pam summed up “The students were very excited about this work and it has really made them think through how they themselves are using energy. In the last week, students have been really looking at what they can do and taking the initiative at school to find ways to conserve in the classroom. The school is also looking for ways to conserve. One example is by putting in motion activated light switches in places where we think they could be used. “
This project is now spreading beyond the walls of the school as well. Pam says, “I am currently working with the 3/4/5 classroom on the same unit. They are heading into the project phase of this work. Some of their ideas include going out into the community to get the word out on how to conserve energy. I am very excited to see their final projects.”