Where will the next great energy ideas come from?
Two national energy contests are already rewarding young thinkers’ best ideas in elementary, middle, and high schools throughout America.
Rich Marvin, education program manager for iScienceProject, a company that makes HOBO measuring devices, says, “Our first HOBO Energy Challenge last year was a huge success. More than 350 classrooms across the U.S. participated, with 11 projects from Kentucky. We hope to see even more schools get involved in our second contest this year.”
The HOBO device (a portable data recorder) monitors light usage, room temperature, and relative humidity. Software turns energy use data into colorful, time-stamped graphs. The manufacturer loans these data loggers to contest entrants. The contest’s goal is to give students in all grades the tools to investigate energy waste and document their findings.
A prize-winning project at a Florida elementary school proved that heat lamps for a classroom aquarium were being left on too long. Students showed that instead of leaving the lights on for 14 hours, the same results could be achieved with 10 hours, saving four hours of electricity each day.
In a Missouri middle school project, students used before-and-after data to prove that replacing old light fixtures and ballasts really does lower energy consumption and save money.
Other award-winning energy-saving projects documented the value of lowering window shades on sunny days, using motion detectors to turn off lights in unused rooms, and setting thermostats at different temperatures days, nights, and weekends.
Marvin notes that participating classrooms win one complete HOBO data logger system worth $200. Winners at the elementary, middle, and high school level earn an entire classroom set, valued at $1,000.
The goals and prizes are a bit different in a longer-running student energy contest. For 25 years, the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project has helped get students and teachers involved in projects that teach about energy—and develop leadership and critical thinking skills. Kentucky is among 45 states participating in the national contest.
Students at Swing Elementary in Covington, Kentucky, earned a first-place state award for a window-caulking project at their 36-year-old school that cut $400 from their school’s utility bill. Teachers at this school support energy education in a big way. This is the second year in a row that the school has earned state recognition for practical ways to conserve energy.
Last year at Meece Middle School, in Somerset, Kentucky, seventh-grade science teacher Cindy Ham’s students took a different approach. Ham and her students created the Eteam, a during- and after-school club.
“The ‘E’ stands for Energy and Environmental Education,” Ham says. “Our biggest project last year involved what we called our Energy Tours.”
Kentucky’s NEED chapter offers statewide professional development activities for teachers that include a tour of East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s coal-fired Cooper generating station in Pulaski County.
Ham says, “Our middle school students decided to model their own energy education program on the one for teachers—except for their project they’d highlight many aspects of energy right here in our local area and become teachers themselves.
“My students discovered there are many places in our community where energy plays a role,” Ham says. “We included many different sites: the coal-fired Cooper power plant, the Somerset water treatment plant, an oil refinery, the Somerset waste water treatment plant, Wolf Creek Dam, and the fish hatchery. The Eteam visited each site, took digital pictures, then used the latest technology to create a DVD.”
Ham continues, “Members of the Eteam visited Hopkins Elementary School in Somerset and gave presentations to every third- and fourth-grade class. As my students discovered that using and paying for energy is a vital part of businesses everywhere, they helped the younger students see how to use energy wisely.
“When Eteam students had to answer questions from other younger students,” Ham says, “it made them really think about what they’d seen and brought home the lessons in a fresh way.”
For the ’04-’05 school year, the Eteam project won Kentucky’s Junior School of the Year Award—and the opportunity to compete at the national level. With widespread support from the community, Meece Middle School sent Ham, other school staff, chaperones, and 16 of the 19 club members to a five-day conference in Washington, D.C.
“One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the Energy Career Expo,” Ham recalls. “Our students met and talked with engineers, researchers, and other workers in the energy industry at all levels. This helps my students make the connection between what we do in the classroom and what they might like to do as working adults.”
Ham is proud that her students’ project earned NEED’s national Middle School of the Year Award last year. But she’s also looking forward: “In another 10 to 15 years, the kids I’ve been teaching will be running the world. This experience has helped them see how energy plays a role in our economy and how we as a society depend on energy in so many ways.”