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Middle School Home Energy Audit

In the Classroom - Teaching Example

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The following scenario describes the project as presented at Baker Middle School in Denver, Colorado. Kevin Lindauer is an eighth grade science teacher in the highly gifted and talent magnet program in the Denver Public Schools, and has nine years teaching experience.

Introduction: With the increasing influence of technology on today's world, students and teachers must continually strive to incorporate technology and information management into the classroom. Computers, with the aid of the internet, permit instant access to large amounts of information and allow the rapid exchange of ideas. The former concept has revolutionized our methods of research but it has also introduced a new approach to the way information must be handled. This is primarily due to the overwhelming volume of information accessible. On the other hand, efficient sharing of ideas, questions, and expertise is now possible, quite literally, with the touch of a button. Electronic data storage and communication will be with us for a long time to come, and dealing with it appropriately in an educational setting will continue to challenge students and teachers alike.

This project utilizes internet resources to promote student learning in science and other subject areas as an interdisciplinary unit. Students must incorporate science, math, language arts, and social studies concepts to successfully complete the project. Specifically, students investigate the use of solar energy as a viable alternative energy source by assuming the roles of housing developers tasked with developing a sustainable, efficient, and environmentally friendly housing development. Easily adapted to any locale, the project presented to students will require student investigation into many of the basic concepts related to energy, solar power, and home energy efficiency.

Classroom Application: Real-life connections are formed. The project begins with students facing the reality of a power shortage by removing all electricity from their lives. At school and at home, students begin the lessons by experiencing their world without electricity. Not only does this provide direct experience with energy shortages, but it also presents a realistic view of our dependence on electrical energy for modern conveniences. Recent news stories relate the effects of electrical shortages during hot weather with headlines of people dying from the heat (no electricity for air conditioning!); growth and development of urban sprawl emphasize the need for increased power production; and the environment suffers due to human energy consumption.

Project guidelines are provided to the students. The underlying task is to create a presentation that describes a plan for reliable solar energy for a housing development. Information for the presentation is garnered from internet resources, classroom learning, and student experimentation. Starting with the project website, initial research using technology focuses on accumulation of posted information from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's website and data bases and expands to include two-way electronic communications with experts in the field and sharing of data from experiments with students in other locales. Combining student experiments conducted at school with data gathered far from their homes by other students simulates scientific process and emphasizes geographic differences in solar energy availability and optimal usage. Further research links and background information found on this website are designed to promote student-led investigation and accumulation of facts to facilitate their presentations.

The role of the teacher is that of facilitator. As such, the teacher must be aware of student progress and understanding of concepts as the project materializes. Experiments to test light absorption, solar oven design, and home energy audits provide checkpoints of student learning and understanding. Misconceptions and student deficiencies can be corrected by the teacher using supplemental activities and resources, both traditional and online.

Student learning is assessed by the project presentation. Students demonstrate their knowledge by presenting the optimum location and design for solar energy use. Incorporation of data from their experimentation into the housing development design indicate understanding and application of the influence of geographic location, absorption and use of solar energy, and energy efficient homes. Logical conclusions from their experiments, internet resources, and communication with experts will show successful learning.

Details: Eighth grade students from regular and highly gifted and talented classes conduct internet research utilizing Baker Middle School's computer laboratory, containing 30 internet-linked computers, and two in-class computers. Access to the primary computer laboratory is shared among different classes and access beyond two hours per class per week can not be guaranteed. However, a smaller computer lab is available for smaller groups, allowing students to supplement learning with additional information as the project progresses. Groups, therefore, must be efficient and directed after initial research. Experimentation and hands-on activities take place in the science classroom.

The project is designed to last approximately six weeks with time in class divided between traditional, content-based learning, hands-on experiments, and computer research. Students are expected to continue their work outside of class in accordance with district homework policies. Ultimately, the students must present their findings to the class in a presentation that illustrates their best design for the housing development.

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Created: September 9, 1998 - Updated: July 31, 2001
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/ntep/f98/projects/nrel/scenariokevin.shtml