Energy Resources Oil and Gas Companies Develop New Lesson Plans Featuring the Science, Math and Social Sciences of the Energy Industry

By Litvak, Anya | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

Energy Resources Oil and Gas Companies Develop New Lesson Plans Featuring the Science, Math and Social Sciences of the Energy Industry


Litvak, Anya, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


If at some point this year, your child comes home from school, grabs a plastic bag and begins stuffing it with items found around the house, take note of the number. If it's exactly 10 items, you can probably breathe a sign of relief. Your little darling isn't running away. He or she is learning about the Marcellus Shale.

Same goes if you're asked to proofread a job cover letter authored by your eighth-grader and signed, "Sincerely, Natural Gas."

The first exercise is part of a new energy curriculum sponsored by the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group representing companies that drill for both shallow and unconventional oil and gas.

The second is from Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania's program for eighth-graders in the region. It's funded by donations from companies in the Marcellus Shale industry and uses their employees as volunteer teachers to explain common scientific concepts through the lens of oil and gas.

Both PIOGA and Junior Achievement programs talk about more than just the Marcellus Shale, which underlies most of Pennsylvania. They explain renewable energy and electricity conservation, for example, but there's a spotlight on oil and gas: how the resources are formed, how they're drilled and how almost everything -- from the products in the plastic bag to the bag itself -- flows from them.

School districts in Beaver County and the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit have been eager to get these programs into classrooms.

The Blackhawk School District was among the first to pilot Junior Achievement's Careers in Energy Program, and is infusing other oil and gas references into its classes as well.

For example, incoming sixth-graders will begin learning about the history of oil and gas wells in social studies, superintendent Michelle Miller said.

Students at the high school's STEAM -- that's Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math -- lab will learn geomapping through the placement of natural gas wells. Others at the lab might use a computer program to survey a piece of land and determine where might be a good place to sink a gas well.

In 2011, the Blackhawk school district signed an oil and gas lease with Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., and while it's unclear when drilling will start, at some point students may get to see the process first hand.

"So much of what Marcellus Shale is is not looking at the jobs of today but looking at where is this going -- and producing kids who have critical thinking, teamwork skills," Ms. Miller said.

That's part of the industry's interest in sponsoring energy lessons, said Andrew Murphy, vice president of business development at Downtown-based EQT Corp. He was on the board of Junior Achievement when the idea of a specialized curriculum was first kicked around several years ago.

Oil and gas operators want to give back to the community, he said, and they also want to ensure a steady flow of future workers.

After a few pilots, Junior Achievement officially launched its energy curriculum in the spring. It reached 1,300 students and clocked 100 industry volunteers, some from Range Resources, EQT Corp., Talisman and Shell, which each contributed $25,000 as sponsors. Chesapeake Energy, which also provided volunteers, donated $5,000, while FTS International, a fracking contractor, gave $50,000.

Smaller companies that work as contractors for Marcellus operators -- law and engineering firm -- volunteered as well.

"A lot of companies have been very eager to get into the classroom," said Krista Wentworth, education program manager. "There's a skills gap and there's a lot of open jobs. So they want kids as young as eighth grade."

Teaching the teachers

"Energy was really not on anybody's radar screens until the last 10 years," said Susan Gove, CEO of the Mount Washington-based Gove Group Inc. that wrote the PIOGA curriculum. "It's not a subject that was integrated into schools. …

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