At the end of the school year, several teachers were discussing possible projects for the next year. One teacher mentioned about a program called EnergyNet that should help connect the science curriculum to a real-world situation. During the summer, a team of teachers and students attended training offered at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The authentic orientation of this energy-consumption investigation gave teachers the opportunity to expand the initial program into an interdisciplinary unit integrating technology. Although the EnergyNet program supplied the data collection activities, Internet access and collaboration with support personnel, resources available through Illinois Leadership in Environmental Education Development (ILEED) provided drama activities, reading materials on energy production and conference training. While collecting the data served as the initial focus of the investigation, the real story appears in the shift in student role from an explorer to a producer of information.
Teachers presented a question regarding energy consumption: Remember this past July and how hot it was . . . the electric company had problems keeping up with the demand for energy needed to keep people cooler and healthier, especially seniors. Some people did not use fans or air-conditioning because they said they could not afford to use them. Some school districts have alternate plans when it is too hot out and students are in classrooms without cooling resources. What can we do to help our district and community use energy more effectively while keeping costs affordable?
Students brainstormed ideas about the problem of energy consumption and what they needed to research about the present situation. Different groups discussed ways to gather data about conditions in school. Most groups searched the Internet looking for sites about energy use thinking that they would be able to find the most current information regarding the latest energy equipment and technology. The students involved in the training shared the information with the other students, including Web pages and activities, mentioning this would be a great way of sharing their data with the other schools across Illinois and learning what other students had collected. The other students expanded on this information--combining other resources they found with those from EnergyNet. The groups devised plans from the activities to gather data about their school's energy use. As a result, 150 students--including bilingual, learning-disabled, behavior-disordered and mainstreamed as well as gifted--hit the school halls during a fall afternoon. Their mission involved collection of data on lighting, appliances, and HVAC (heating, ventilating, andamp; air conditioning). Student-selected tasks created the flexible groups aimed at assessing each wing of the building. Groups working from opposite ends of the hall collected two sets of data. In this manner, comparison of the information generated by each team established the reliability of the data collection. Working as evaluators, guides, and co-investigators, two teachers covered each wing of the school during this process. Because classes were in session, only two students entered a classroom, and if disruption occurred, students would be ejected and pulled from the process. Not one student was ejected. During one afternoon, students collected the majority of the raw data necessary for the EnergyNet analysis and calculations.
Groups compared, analyzed and synthesized data during Wednesday afternoon Academic Resource Curriculum periods. Following the initial data collection, some students volunteered to work with the math teacher to calculate the area of the school's exterior doors, windows and walls. With these calculations, students determined the amount of energy lost from the building envelope by identifying the r-value (insulating value) of the material used in these structures.
Teachers served as guides and facilitators as students worked within energy task groups. However, in other instances, teachers became co-learners in the activities. While a representative from Commonwealth Edison helped students determine the school's energy consumption and understand the billing, a civil and an electrical engineer served as mentors for students analyzing the building envelope and lighting. Calculation of energy consumption data was completed by the group, and the analysis and synthesis of the data and conversion to a graphic form was completed for the oral presentation. Because of the complexity of the entire project, volunteers from each group served on a central planning committee that reported the group's progress on data collection and synthesis, contacted mentors within the community, and coordinated Web access. Following two weeks of research and collaboration, students hypothesized possible interventions, created intervention models and scheduled evaluation of the intervention plans with teachers. Later, the project would expand in two directions--developing EnergyNet resources and creating district Web page templates.
In response to the problems inherent in the data collection and calculations, the central planning committee began to expand the focus of the project as they addressed the challenges. Soon teams began to transfer the use of the technology skills developed in math and computer classes to respond to these problems. First, they created information to help other students classify lighting and HVAC data. Work in the multimedia lab and background experience with authoring Web pages shifted student roles to that of producers of information. In addition to data collection and analysis, the lighting and HVAC groups decided to produce Web pages to help students at other schools identify and assess their lighting and HVAC equipment. Students presented their pages to ILEED members and submitted their findings in the data sharing section on the EnergyNet Web site. By accepting responsibility for their own learning, students transformed their roles from collaborators during learning activities to that of teachers guiding others through the possibilities of technology. Their information would not only help their school save energy but could also help other schools around the state conserve energy.
Serving as co-learners and facilitators, teachers opened labs before and after school as students required more time to work on these expanded roles. Digitized cameras and scanners created the visuals that students classified, described and presented on their Web pages. Soon other students began appearing in the multimedia lab to learn knew skills or share their expertise on the computer. Grade delineation and language barriers disappeared as students joined forces to communicate what they learned with a global audience. When eighth grade students trained seventh graders who joined the project, they created future project coordinators. Bilingual students worked through their lunch hours and study periods using the templates designed for EnergyNet home pages for their own purposes. They wanted to translate the pages from their project into Spanish so other bilingual students could participate in this project. Responding to the ILEED project NEED, other students created templates for an ILEED home page, received a technology award for their efforts, and presented the project at the luncheon in Springfield. Clearly, students energized by learning had used the technology to transform themselves into information producers.
Drawing from experience in the use of the spreadsheet program, students used the laptops to apply the formulas and calculations they could not use with the EnergyNet's program. Data calculated on these tables served to facilitate the conversions and transformations that they later used for their presentation of data at Tech 2000. Knowing that they would soon share this information in Springfield, students created PowerPoint presentations that documented cost-saving interventions. Because of their work in this area, student representatives soon appeared at district meetings, planning programs to reduce energy consumption within the schools. As they collaborated with the adult committee members, students--energized by their new role--began to question why high-energy consumption lights remained on in the gym and lunchroom after students left these areas. As a result of the meeting, student volunteers placed 'please turn off the lights' stickers on light switches throughout the school. Reduction of energy consumption no longer depended solely on the janitorial staff.
In response to the district problem of communicating energy data, a second concern emerged. While junior high students felt that younger children could perform the measurements, calculation of area and transformation of energy units might present problems. Experimentation with Java script to insert the calculations into the Web pages led to the development of an initial prototype home page. When in control of the learning process, the student applied knowledge of technology to help resolve the issue.
Plugging students into technology does not guarantee a shift from information users to producers; however, when given technology skills and authentic problems, students have the power to transform their roles as well as the world around them.