Renewable energy education comes to Northwest Colorado
January 16, 2010
Garrett Flint and his fifth-grade classmates from Ridgeview Elementary School walked closely behind their remote control car as it sped around the cafeteria.
Shouts of "awesome" and gasps of excitement filled the room as the little car sped across the floor, finishing 1 1/2 laps before sputtering to a stop.
Garrett's face registered nothing short of awe.
The students' excitement was not unfounded; this was not an ordinary remote control car.
It was powered by wind, which the Ridgeview students had created themselves with a homemade turbine that charged a capacitor.
"Just think," he said. "If you could use stuff like this every day, you could save a ton of energy.
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"Everything would be so much better, and we wouldn't burn so many oils and pollute the air."
Garrett and four other Ridgeview students were one of about 20 teams of teachers and students who attended the Science Explorers Workshop on Friday at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
The traveling workshop is a joint effort sponsored by the University of Colorado, Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services and several energy companies. The focus of the organizations is outreach and awareness.
Ridgeview teacher Debbie Yeager was thrilled to see her students engaged and excited about their science education.
"The energy has to come from somewhere, and we're just making it come from plastic cups," Yeager said.
At its core, the program is meant to be professional development, allowing teachers to walk away with a new curriculum taught by CU science instructors and have an idea about how to use it in the classroom.
But inviting a few students to come along adds a whole new element, CU instructor Fred Gluck said.
"The kids go back enthused, and the teachers go back enthused," he said. "They get to incorporate this into the classroom, make it become the norm."
The curriculum is designed for fifth- through eighth-graders and meets several specific state content standards for science education.
Energy awareness and education is becoming more urgent and relevant than ever, and Gluck said that's why some schools already incorporate renewable energy lessons into their curriculums.
"The reason we do this is to teach awareness about alternative energy and conservation," he said. "But back when oil prices were cheap it was like, 'Why bother?' But now, oil is expensive, and most people are motivated by finances. But more important is climate change. Our major ports and 70 percent of the population who live by water are in jeopardy."
He said even in a city such as Craig, where fossil fuel energy is an important part of the economy, conversations about awareness and conservation are just as necessary.
He cited an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that requires energy provider Xcel Energy to produce 20 percent of its power through alternative energy by 2020.
"That other 80 percent still has to come from somewhere," he said. "We'll still have to use coal for a long time. It won't happen overnight. We want people thinking about the oil that's used for plastic, for medicines and even carbon fiber. If we burn it all up for fuel, then we don't have it."
Programs such as Science Explorers could lead to future jobs, utility bill savings at home and a way to the other side of an economic recession, Gluck said.
"Colorado is poised to be one of the best states to reform from the economy," he said. "We're an energy state."
He saw outreach workshops as bricks laid in the road to future energy opportunities.
Friday's workshop consisted of three sessions in different rooms of the school.
One of the rooms was based on energy conservation, where the students used voltmeters on everyday household appliances such as coffeepots, hair dryers and blenders.
The students learned how much energy the average person uses and small ways to conserve.
The second room focused on wind power, where Gluck instructed his students on how to build a wind turbine out of red plastic cups, which powered small devices such as lights, fans and the remote-control car.
They also calculated what the power output of each device was.
The third room was a lesson in passive solar, which doesn't always involve solar panels.
Students learned how buildings could be built with natural surroundings in mind, using the angle of the sun at different times of the day and different seasons to conserve energy in the form of heat and light.
Near the end of the wind power lesson, Ridgeview fifth-grader Christa Bird expressed her excitement for returning to her school Tuesday to teach the other students what she had learned during the workshop.
"We're going to teach the lesson to the other kids," she said. "I think the planet should use more alternative energy. We could cut down on the cost of electricity."
Polly Dana, director of the Science Explorers Workshop, said the mission of the program was to reach out to the next generation and place in their hands the tools to power the future.
"The time frame is important," Dana said. "It's about the next generation. It's about getting kids charged up, excited and interested so when they grow up, they can be creating that next opportunity."