Business Brings Sustainable Lessons to School: Students Learn about Energy Efficiency with Companion Curricula That Include Hands-On Projects

By Pascopella, Angela | District Administration, June-July 2009 | Go to article overview

Business Brings Sustainable Lessons to School: Students Learn about Energy Efficiency with Companion Curricula That Include Hands-On Projects


Pascopella, Angela, District Administration


PITSCO'S GREEN PROJECTS and products, Lexmark's paper program, and Lutron Electronics' Greenovation program are just a few curricular ideas that K12 classrooms are using to help districts save energy and teach students to help save the environment.

Pitsco designs thousands of products, including kits, teacher guides and tools for the classroom to engage learners, and offers a standards-based K12 curriculum that promotes student success; Lexmark develops, manufactures and supplies printing and imaging solutions; and Lutron designs and manufactures lighting control products.

Lutron officials state that the Greenovation project, which combines state-of-the-art classroom lighting with state-correlated energy lessons, can teach a powerful message. The project came about when Lutron installed an energy efficient lighting system in the South Middle School in Arlington Heights, Ill., and then tracked the energy usage, according to Ann Feigl-Johnston, Lutron's communications project manager. Kim Dyer, a teacher at the school, wanted to know the energy usage so she could discuss sustainable behavior with her students. Greenovation grew from there. Pitsco developed its green products to foster excitement for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and sustainable energy. And Lexmark's sustainability curriculum allows the company to partner with administrators, teachers and students in part to build skills and use science and math to help solve environmental challenges in the real world.

"It's a lot of fun for kids, and it gets them to think about things they never would have thought about otherwise," says Jessi Monroe, a science teacher at Monte Cassino School in Tulsa, Okla., about Pitsco's Der Wiener Roaster, which she uses in her lessons. "It allows them to do hands-on work, which allows them to make more connections as opposed to just reading out of a textbook."

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While there is no hard data on the extent of green curricula in K12 schools nationwide, there are signs that environmental programs are gaining ground, according to James Elder, director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, which helps advocate for increased federal funding for the environment.

Congress has a bill, "No Child Left Inside," on the table that creates new funding for teacher training in environmental education. For states to access the funds, they must have in place a statewide environmental literacy plan, which only about 10 states have, Elder says. Some states have started to consider environmental education programs, including Maryland and Oregon, and California launched an environment in education initiative a few years ago. "I can say from my own experience that it's very clear that environmental education is going through its second renaissance, with the first being in the 1970s," Elder says.

The Green Hot Dog

Back in Oklahoma, Monroe uses the Der Wiener Roaster, which is a solar hot dog cooker, to help her seventh- and eighth-grade students learn the power of the sun as they cook their turkey hot dogs.

As part of Monroe's synergistic system laboratory, students place two foil-wrapped hot dogs in the heat-absorbing metal tube, and the parabolic surface gathers the sun's rays. "I send them outside with oven mitts," she says, as the hot dogs get boiling hot. "And they realize that the sunnier it is, the faster they cook."

After the lab, Monroe and the students discuss how they can use solar power to run motor vehicles or other equipment. And they learn about wind energy using fans. The lessons lead to talk of fossil fuels, which Monroe's students mistakenly thought are not used in their homes. "I want them to see that they are using fossil fuels," she says. The class then discusses how solar and wind power are better, cleaner sources for future energy. …

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