Energy is fascinating and multifaceted topic. Too often I find myself getting caught up in teaching the basic facts and figures of a topic and no time is left to investigate inspiring real-life problems and solutions. This time, I chose instead to give students a project that would motivate them to discover for themselves how science is providing solutions to the current energy crisis. In doing so, they would learn about energy almost without realising it!
We commenced the project in the same week that the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) produced their most recent report. In addition, the project was designed to give students an opportunity to reflect on their skills development and practise communicating their ideas to others in creative ways.
The Energy Efficiency Project was differentiated to individual students’ strengths and preferred learning styles with a choice of three projects designed to meet the same learning outcomes and in this way give all students the opportunity to be successful.
Project 1: Construct a 3D model of an existing energy-saving or energy-efficient device or building. Include labels and additional explanations so that the model can be understood without the need for an oral presentation.
Project 2: Design an energy-saving or energy-efficient device or room. Present your design either as a model or as plans. Include labels and additional explanations so that the structure and function can be understood without the need for an oral presentation.
Project 3: Research the current situation of energy use and energy saving either in your neighbourhood or in school. Get factual information, conduct surveys, interview people and make observations. Present a journalistic article (written, approx. 800 words or on video, approx. 5 minutes). Conclude your article with some recommendations for simple improvements.
Students had access to computers, internet and library books over a two-week period during which they organised and managed their time both in lessons and at home. Materials were facilitated at students’ request where possible, though they mainly organised their own materials, making good use of recycling and repurposing waste (in the spirit of the project!) Some students requested help contacting members of school staff for research and guidance such as building management staff, maintenance staff, administrative staff, the architect of the new campus and teachers from the film department.
On the day of presentation, students completed a reflective guided self-assessment and then proceeded to view the projects of others in the class. Each student peer-assessed the project of a class-mate (not a close friend) with a guided peer-assessment and gave feedback on strengths and areas for improvement. This activity helped them to realise which aspects of the instructions they had paid less attention to, thus helping them to be better focused in future tasks. By analyzing the work of others, they had the opportunity to view alternative ways of completing the project, thus modelling good practice between classmates so that weaker students could see the work of stronger students and stronger students could be inspired by different perspectives.
Many members of the science department and other school staff came to see the projects and were impressed by the depth of understanding and clarity of communication by the students in complex and wide-ranging topics from algal lamps to perpetual-motion machines to body-heat chargers. The projects were subsequently displayed in the school library and the offices of the Head of Secondary School and Head of Middle School before being taken home.
Even in the weeks following the project, our learning continued; students made connections from what we had learned with other things they saw – a teacher using a solar-powered phone charger, turning off the speakers in their classrooms to avoid wasting stand-by power, the waste heat produced by lights etc. The Energy Efficiency Project also had far-reaching effects: one students’ father, in their role as community chairperson, changed the buildings’ light bulbs to energy-efficient light-bulbs as a result of the article written by his daughter and her interview with him; another student found out more about her father’s work in renewable energy systems; several spoke with their families about how they can save more energy at home; another student dominated the dinner-table conversation for over a week brainstorming possible projects and eventually teamed up with medical professionals to innovate a new way to help wheelchair users by developing an electric wheelchair powered by the kinetic energy of the wheel itself.
My aim was for the students to take their learning out of the classroom, to see how science is applied to problem-solving in the world, to realise how science impacts their own lives and to become better communicators of science. Their projects are evidence of their huge success.
As one student said in the introduction to their video article:
“I like to do this project because I like to feel that I am saving the world.”