Steamboat 5th-graders spend day as scientists |

Steamboat 5th-graders spend day as scientists

Ben Ingersoll

— For a few weeks, fifth-graders at Soda Creek Elementary School have been hired as energy renewable scientists for local environmental group Yampatika.

Conducting "research" on renewable energy, the students are being paid in "power bucks" and are testing their findings using items like hollowed-out milk cartons, empty tin cans and long-forgotten pizza boxes.

It's a project students at both Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools have been involved with for the past four years under the direction of Yampatika founder Karen Vail, their teachers and parent volunteers. Grants from Yampatika, the Challenge Fund and Yampa Valley Electric Association have supported the efforts of these naturalists in training.

The fifth-graders participate in three sessions over the course of three weeks. They started last week with an introductory lecture on five topics: biomass, hydrothermal, wind, solar and geothermal energy. On Thursday, dozens of students took to the field to put their research to the test.

In their separate groups on the Soda Creek front lawn, teams worked together to build their experiments, jot down their findings and help teach each other how renewable energy works across multiple platforms.

"They start thinking about how they can save energy at home or what type of energy they use at home," Vail said. "If they have better background information on how to make those decisions, hopefully it will make an impact."

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The experiments included such things as building their own pinwheel wind turbines out of paper, crafting pizza box solar ovens and calculating biomass energy with a peanut, water and thermometer.

The students aren't done yet. Next week, they will prove their findings in front of their peers. The solar energy pizza box group said they are going to try to bake cookies in their makeshift oven.

As Vail explains it, the renewable energy project may be some of the only hands-on scientific education fifth-graders in Steamboat get anymore. She said it's also a way for students to appreciate energy conservation at a young age.

"For fourth and fifth grade both, what we're trying to get them to do is be a little more civic conscious," Vail said. "In other words, actions they make in their daily lives are going to affect everyone around them.

"We're just trying to get them to think about their effects on the earth."

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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