By Tyler Valdes and Jessica Redden
As the world came to a halt and schools began to shut down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our team at SEI sheltered in our homes along with others including teachers, students, school staff, and their families. Many of us turned on lights and appliances, turned up the air conditioning or heating, plugged in our devices, and made meals with the stove and microwave. From telecommuting to online classes, we are home now more than ever and we are consuming more energy than ever! Remember that oven you hadn't touched for months? Were you one of many (including ourselves) that made banana bread in the first few months of shelter-in-place? Alongside baking, we have all taken on activities that use energy in some shape or form. As students consume energy during stay-at-home orders, it is critical that they are aware of the importance of energy conservation and energy efficient technologies. These energy saving habits will carry on when they return to school and eventually to their own homes or places of work.
By Lawrie Mankoff
During this uniquely challenging school year, teachers are working hard to bring sustainability-focused activities and lessons to students learning from home. Energize Schools is working with educators to include a wide range of environmental topics in their virtual classrooms through engaging, hands-on projects. Over the summer, the Energize Schools team led four virtual teacher trainings on climate change, renewable energy, energy auditing and air quality. Here are five sustainability activities featured in the teacher trainings that you can use for remote learning:
1. Greenhouse effect simulation
An online simulation is a great way to introduce students to the science behind climate change. We use simulations from the Concord Consortium in our curriculum to help students gain an understanding of the greenhouse effect. Students can observe visual representations of carbon dioxide and heat moving through our atmosphere, and the impacts humans have by releasing greenhouse gasses.
2. Easy energy auditing
Energy auditing may seem like a difficult project to bring to students in their homes, but it can be as easy as instructing students to observe the appliances in their space. After making a list of energy users in their homes, students can check appliances for tags with power rating, use data in SEI curriculum on average energy usage, or research online to calculate their energy consumption and costs.
3. Explore renewable energy by building a water wheel
A simple way for students to model a real world source of renewable energy is by creating their own water wheel out of whatever household materials they choose. Students can get creative using different materials to create their own water wheel, and learn how these models compare to real world hydropower. Marc Wheeler, a teacher from Woodside High School, made his water wheel using a CD and candle holders!
4. Learn about environmental justice through air quality maps
CalEnviroScreen is a powerful tool that allows students to see what areas of California are most burdened with pollution, alongside population characteristics including race and economic status. In exploring CalEnviroscreen air quality maps, students can see a stark overlap between the areas most polluted and where black and brown communities live today as a result of historical redlining and other discriminatory housing practices.
5. Have your students lead a energy conservation campaign
Students can make a difference in protecting the environment by encouraging their communities to save energy. A virtual campaign makes use of social media or other online platforms to spread the word about the importance of reducing our energy usage. One way to have your students explore conservation is through the Energize Schools 2020 Energy Challenge!
All of these activities and more are in the Energize Schools distance learning curriculum, which is free to all teachers. This curriculum can be requested through our distance learning page, and California teachers can also schedule a one-on-one session to plan their virtual sustainability lessons.
The SEI Team
Environmental education and workforce development experts share stories from the field