Natalie Nall may be preparing for her 30th year at the head of a classroom, but for four days this summer, she and other teachers across northwest Florida and Alabama became students of wind, solar, hydro and other power-generation sources.
The Empower Energy Education Workshop helped Natalie understand how renewable energy works and where advancements may be going. It also gave her curriculum and hands-on activities to share at Bratt Elementary School in Century, Florida, this school year.
“It’s bringing out what’s new and current,” Natalie says.
In June, Natalie joined nearly 150 other educators at the fifth annual workshop cohosted by Escambia River Electric Cooperative and Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative.
Teachers participated in hands-on experiments on radiant energy transformation. They designed posters on electricity and worked on experiments around endothermic and exothermic processes, solar energy and chemical energy. They used an apple for a battery.
Already well-acquainted with solar, Natalie says she was most intrigued learning about the potential for offshore wind generation.
“The speakers were so enthusiastic. They made me want to investigate,” she says. “I’d never thought about wind power out in the water.”
Broadening horizons fits within the guiding principles behind EREC and GCEC; their power supplier, PowerSouth Energy Cooperative; and electric cooperatives all over the country. Education, Training and Information is the Fifth Cooperative Principle. Sharing information helps members and the public be better informed about cooperatives and the benefits of working together.
EREC sponsored Natalie’s participation in the workshop.
Cortney Owens, EREC communications manager, says the co-op tries to spread learning opportunities across schools and grades to include a cross section of teachers.
“The conference is packed with activities and lessons that can be used with students in the upcoming academic year,” Cortney says. “They receive their own scientific kit loaded with materials to take home, so it’s not just theoretical learning. It’s also a great opportunity for teachers to make connections with colleagues from other institutions.”
Natalie says she intends to maintain her newfound friendships from the workshop. She plans to meet with the other educators before the school year starts.
A longtime kindergarten teacher, Natalie starts the academic year in a new role in Bratt’s special education classroom. She plans to adapt portions of what she learned in June for the wider range of students she will have in one space.
Curriculum at the workshop was developed by the National Energy Education Development Project. Started in 1980, the program creates a pathway for every grade level around all aspects of energy: science, sources, electricity, transportation, efficiency and conservation. In the past decade, the curriculum portfolio has grown to more than 100 teacher and student guides.
The information around energy conservation and resources, Natalie says, expands exponentially beyond teachers and their students.
“The teachers teach the children, but the children share at home with their families,” she says.
Energy Grants for Northwest Educators
For Gretchen Cruden, principal and teacher at Orient Elementary in Washington state’s Ferry County, the chance for energy education brought an entire community together in the 2022-2023 school year.
Orient was a 2022 recipient of $3,000 through Bonneville Power Administration’s Science and Energy Education Grants program. Close to 100 grants, ranging from $500 to $5,000 each, have been awarded since the program began in 2012, says BPA public affairs specialist Heather Bain.
Orient serves kindergarten through eighth grade students in an unincorporated community of fewer than 100 residents. Funding from BPA supported the school’s Power to the People Project, a hands-on study of energy that culminated with a science fair open to parents and the community.
They weren’t the only educators picking up new lessons and curriculum for the school year. Workshops, grants and energy education programs all over the country have helped power up the next generation of energy-conscious leaders as power generation and school science standards evolve.
Gretchen says students focused on grade-appropriate lessons. The K-2 classrooms worked to understand how the forces of pushing and pulling as the water’s energy is harnessed to create hydropower. They also discussed how the power of the sun evaporates water from the Earth’s surface to condense in rain clouds.
Third through fifth graders took a deeper dive through the water cycle to understand the transfer of energy from potential to kinetic and how the mechanical energy of a flowing river translates into electrical energy.
The oldest students jumped even deeper, discovering how forces relate to the laws of physics and how heat energy can be used to meet demand. Using simple machines, they engineered and tested improvements to a current form of renewable energy or created a new way to harness it in projects displayed at the science fair.
“The grant paid for all the hands-on materials,” Gretchen says. “That was fabulous. There were so many things we were able to do with the students.”
The BPA grant paid for a trip and tour of Box Canyon Dam, a gravity-fed hydropower producer on the Pend Oreille River.
“It was wonderful as a staff to just really look at the science standards as they relate to energy,” Gretchen says. “To really look at the importance of energy production through hydropower itself and what we can be doing to improve it overall.”
In the Northwest, that includes challenges around creating energy while mitigating impacts for fish migration.
“As long as we’re putting that spark in kids’ minds, we can be working toward finding solutions,” she says. “The wonder of that is the human brain really likes to do that. That’s a good thing.”