NESEA Completes Energy Science Curriculum For Pennsylvania Schools

Submitted by Chris Mason
2007-03-19 22:42:55

What is Energy Thinking? In one sense it is a new educational unit on energy for grades 5-8 that NESEA has just completed for teachers in Pennsylvania. But, perhaps more importantly, it is a structure for students to think through energy use in their lives and to identify changes that, if implemented, would reduce negative consequences of energy use while still meeting individual’s energy goals—such as getting around, a warm home, hot water, or convenient lighting.

Energy Thinking comprises a five-step, systems-thinking process. Students identify energy resources they currently use for different tasks; show how those resources are converted into useful energy and transported to where they are needed; appraise the wanted and unwanted outputs of this energy use; define goals that take into account these outputs; and propose and incorporate in their lives changes in energy use that reduce unwanted outputs.

Along the way, students learn about energy efficiency through a simulation that compares gas mileages of different vehicles; by experimenting with LEDs, incandescent, and compact florescent bulbs; and through an insulation experiment on model buildings.

Students use wind, falling water, and sunlight to power electric bulbs and motors and build a simple electric generator to help understand how steam is used to generate electricity. The unit comes with a deck of 51 Energy Information Cards specific to Pennsylvania that students chain together to reveal energy resources most commonly used in Pennsylvania and resource options—including many renewable options—that could be tapped for energy use. In addition, the cards reveal how these resources are transported, transformed, and processed into useful energy and describe how energy resources are formed; consequences of extracting, possessing, and transporting energy resources; and ways to reduce energy use.

Once students develop their energy thinking skills, they investigate energy use at home and at school and develop a school display, suggest home improvements, and propose a school energy action plan. Through these actions, students highlight for others how changing energy resources, increasing efficiency, or changing human energy-use behavior can benefit people and the environment. Students link their action ideas to specific consequences of energy use that the students have identified as a high priority.

The concept of this unit was initiated during a series of roundtables convened in Pennsylvania by NESEA and supported by a grant from the TRF Sustainable Development Fund. Funding for the development of this unit was provided by a grant from The Reinvestment Fund’s Sustainable Development Fund. The Pennsylvania Office of Environment and Ecology—a collaboration between the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection—is printing and disseminating the new unit in Pennsylvania.

For more information, contact Chris Mason at NESEA: (413) 774-6051 ext 21 or

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