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The Ultimate Experience: Opt4STEM Energy Academy

Ashayla Freeman, Opt4STEM Energy Academy participant 2016
We are pleased to have Guest Blogger Ashayla Freeman provide this blog about her experience at the Opt4Stem Energy Academy this summer. The program brought together high school students from Von Steuben High School in Chicago and gave them an energy experience they will never forget!  NEED proudly partnered with Opt4STEM to support the Energy Academy with curriculum, training, and a wind and energy efficiency session with NEED trainer and energy manager James Brown of Saratoga Springs, New York. Opt4STEM is a STEM partnership between Exelon, Von Steuben High School, and Illinois Institute of Technology to provide high school students with the foundation to succeed in STEM degrees at four-year research universities. For more information about Opt4STEM, go to

My experience with the Opt4STEM Energy Academy this summer has been absolutely phenomenal. Science has never been my favorite subject. I've always found it quite intimidating and was hesitant to apply when I heard about the Energy Academy, but thanks to my English teacher, Ms.Teref, being so persistent and encouraging, I decided to give it a go. The application process was very simple and straightforward with questions like, “Why do you want to join OPT4STEM?” and “Why should you be selected for the program?”.
Fast forward to the first day of the program. All of the students were put into groups and we began with a simple workshop as an icebreaker. The first activity we partook in was “Getting the Oil Out” where we worked together to connect a pipeline (straws) which we used to suck out “oil” (chocolate syrup) from a cup. The goal of this activity was to establish teamwork and give us insight into how difficult it is to extract oil from the earth. In addition to this activity, we built a generator and learned about fracking. All in one day! So you could only imagine what the other 9 days were like!

My favorite part would definitely have to be when we went out on field trips. The first field trip that comes to mind would have to be our trip to ComEd Rockford Training Center, especially meeting Socrates, a technician there. Meeting Socrates reminds me why I love the staff involved in Opt4STEM and the staff we met everywhere in general. Everyone was so friendly and easy to communicate with. You could ask them almost anything, as long as it's appropriate of course, and they would answer to the best of their ability – which is something I loved!
We also did very exclusive things, including meeting the CEO of Exelon. So basically me, a 15-year-old girl, who is about to start her sophomore year in high school, was having lunch and chatting with the head of one of the world's biggest energy companies. Surprisingly no one fangirled too much and we were given free rein to ask him whatever we liked. I really appreciated that the teachers didn't dominate the conversation, you could tell everything was truly for the kids.
After experiencing all of this, I think that's what makes Opt4STEM so different from other science programs. It's not too classroom or textbook orientated and everything is hands on.  At any moment you have freedom to ask questions and everything is translated to simple form so that you can understand. Overall, Opt4STEM was very cool; it wasn't what I expected at all. I thought I needed all this prior knowledge and everything would be over my head, but in reality I felt like I spent two weeks hanging out with my teachers/friends and we just so happened to learn a lot about science and energy.

National Energy Conference for Educators Takes On Washington, D.C.

What do you get when you cross 93 educators with summer in the Nation's Capital? The 2016 National Energy Conference for Educators! For five days, passionate K-12 teachers from all over the nation, Virgin Islands, and Singapore came together in Washington, D.C. to further enhance their energy knowledge and training. 

From registration on day one with a wind turbine blade design challenge to the final morning, utilizing cereal as “transportation fuel”, teachers were kept up out of their seats actively learning and partaking in NEED's hands-on energy units. Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic facilitators created a role reversal for teachers as they become the students and learned and tricks for useful ways to adapt each unit to various classrooms. 

There were plenty of “oohs and aahs” that were enjoyed (in addition to riding the Hyatt Regency's glass elevators). Creating songs for an energy rock performance to assuming the roles of advisor, geologist, and miner for country's resources in a global trading game, activities for multiple grade levels and subjects were crafted into the agenda with standards for learning always kept in mind.

Participants also put their olfactory system's tolerance to the test during a tour of Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant operated by DC Water, which is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world. The tour guide explained the plant's emphasis on recycling and environmental consciousness by explaining the new biosolids management program. Solid materials get separated and processed through digesters that use a combination of heat and pressure to reduce odor while killing harmful pathogens. This results in a nutrient-rich product that gets sent to farms to aid as a soil enhancer.

Whether it's your first year or your 50th, NEED's National Energy Conference for Educators has something for every teacher to learn, experience, and take back to their classrooms to really energize their students. Checkout what this year's participants had to say:

  • 95% of participants rated the conference above average

  • 92% said they would use the conference energy activities and associated materials in the classroom this coming school year

  • Over 75% of participants said the conference assisted in improving their energy knowledge

Youth Awards for Energy Education Program

By Constance Beatty, NEED TAB member and Illinois Youth Awards recipient for Kennedy Middle School

Youth…400 teachers, chaperones, and students from as far away as Hawaii gathered in the greater Washington D.C. area on June 24-27 to celebrate their energy achievements during the 2015-2016 school year. The Crystal City Hyatt's lobby and elevators teemed with happy groups returning from a full day of riding the double decker Big Buses. These students made new friends with other participants from around the nation, participated in new NEED energy curriculum, toured Washington D.C. and garnered complements from the staff and other guests of the Hyatt. 

Awards…George Washington University hosted NEED's Youth Awards Recognition Ceremony in its Lisner Auditorium. Students took the stage to accept their awards and get their picture taken in front of the new NEED Step and Repeat. Cristina Jorge Schwarz (a former NEED student) and Dr. Frederic Bertley were the keynote speakers for the celebration. Alton Gayton and Laurel Hughes, Youth Staff, won the 2016 NEED Youth Energy Leadership Award and Student Leaders of the Year. Both of them began by attending Youth Awards as students with their classes.
Energy…Participants were able to take part in three different energy activities Saturday morning. The younger students, parents, and teachers worked with wind curriculum making models of wind turbines. The intermediate participant group experienced See Run Do, with the students recreating energy posters, and the adults recreating Washington D.C. posters. Finally the secondary group was able to do energy audit work checking the efficiency of different areas of the hotel.

Education…None of these activities would be available if it weren't for the energy education that has been taking place during the 2015-2016 school year. Teachers have used NEED curriculum with their students, teaching about energy forms and their transformations, sources, efficiency and conservation, and of course careers in the energy field.  During all the meals at the hotel, slide shows and videos of the projects that were submitted were shown. Projects ranged from energy carnivals and no waste days, to The NEED National Senior School of the Year from Fayette, TN, who along with many other activities, was responsible for making the recommendation to their school board for a LED retrofit that will save their district 2.2 million dollars over the next year.
Program…The NEED Project changes lives as students come as participants who have studied Energy and presented it to others, return as youth staff members, and then go on to make impactful differences in our world.

Check out the photos from the weekend and watch the 2016 Youth Awards Slideshow.

Do your students have ESP?

By Illinois Teacher and NEED Teacher Advisory Board Member, Constance Beatty

When the invitation to write for the ESP grant came across my Facebook feed, I immediately thought of extrasensory perception.  I know, not very creative but true.  But, I was intrigued and looked in to writing for the grant.  It turns out that even though ESP actually stands for Energizing Student Potential, not extrasensory perception, both of these acronyms' meanings have a lot to do with each other.

I knew from the beginning that the ESP grant was going to change the lives of Illinois students.  I did write for and receive the grant this past October. In fact, it was not only a vital part of the science curriculum for three classes in my school, but the grant was also received by over 40 other applicants and so experienced by many other teachers and students as well.  The grant gave teachers: 3 days of hands-on professional development, NGSS and Common Core aligned curriculum, science kits for the classroom and cash grant money to fund many of the other extras to teach this energy based curriculum well.   STEM and STEAM were implemented as our students learned the material, asked critical questions, explored ways to take that knowledge and broaden it, experimented and brainstormed new solutions to existing technologies, appreciated the fact that many careers options are open to them in the energy field, and presented these to others in their communities through an Energy Carnival. 

As I watched the students from my class join their peers to present their findings and knowledge to younger students and then families and friends I could feel the students' perceptions about themselves change as they gained confidence speaking to groups, handling situations and seeing the adult reactions to their presentations.  Students who did not normally think of themselves as academic successes were successful.  Parents who were more accustomed to hearing concerns about their children saw them take leadership roles successfully.  Administrators supported the out-of-the-box thinking and creativity that took place and appreciated the long hours that went into making the curriculum provided by the grant a success.  Each of these processes were building to the culmination of the Energizing Student Potential grant success in my building.

Administrators, teachers, students, and parents from all of the schools that participated in the grant as well as representatives from the sponsoring energy companies, gathered at the Field Museum in May for the ESP Celebration.  The excitement was palpable as the group watched video submissions of the completed projects, were interviewed on camera, and called to the platform to be appreciated for their diligence in fulfilling the requirements of the grant.  Parents were amazed at the fact that their children and their peers were the ones presenting in the videos and on stage.  Administrators enjoyed the kudos that the students brought back to their districts, and specifically their schools.  The teachers and students reveled in the spotlight, (one of my students was interviewed on camera by Exelon's film crew and that was all he talked about for three days afterwards). The Sponsors' representatives repeatedly gave compliments to the grant winners and their students.

The funders of the grant, The Exelon Foundation, Com ED, Nicor Gas, North Shore Gas, Peoples Gas and BP, needed extrasensory perception as they partnered with the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED) to cast the vision of these successes because of their financial support.  I am sure that their companies have and will continue to see the results of this financial support as they participated in energy carnivals, special speaking invitations, the final submission of the grant paperwork, the ESP Celebration held at the Field Museum in May, and as they continue to mold more energy literate consumers.

Thank you, ESP grant funders and especially NEED, who administered the grant and was the educational partner for a truly ESP year.

PEEP Year End 2016

As the year school year ends, we here at NEED are busy celebrating all that schools, teachers, and students have accomplished inside the classroom and out. We're so proud to be a part of so many of your energy education efforts, and celebrating with you is one of the best parts!

On Thursday, May 26th, NEED joined with the United Way to celebrate students in the PECO Energizing Education Program's United Way Afterschool Agencies. This PEEP group included six agencies from across the city of Philadelphia. These students learn about energy in their afterschool programs (sometimes even on Saturdays!), and teach others with a community outreach project. All six agencies were represented at the celebration dinner, held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Philadelphia.

Students came together to showcase their efforts throughout the year and be recognized for their hard work. Student representatives told about their energy fair, showed their PSA videos of energy saving tips, made solar-powered cars, generated electricity by building their own hydropower generators, created energy-saving apps, and even held their own version of the popular TV show Shark Tank! Students who attended also enjoyed some fun science as they enjoyed rock candy pops, and played with ducky-circuits.

A week later, on Thursday, June 3, NEED joined PECO and our friends at the Franklin Institute to celebrate a great year in the PECO Energizing Education Program's in-school program. The in-school program, in its eighth year, kicked off in January and was made up of 20 Philadelphia region schools. The schools were charged with learning about energy and teaching others through a STEM challenge project.  

This year's program saw some amazing projects and innovation from the elementary, middle school, and high school students involved, and their reach was broad – teaching their communities through future cities design challenges, building a giant whale to teach about how energy and the environment are connected, holding a large scale wind turbine blade challenge with several grades and schools represented, designing sustainable housing for expanding cities, and creating mudwatts! These schools and students really made learning about energy fun for all!  At the June celebration, students came together to tour the exhibits at the Franklin Institute, eat pizza (of course), and present their projects to their peers. Students really enjoyed being on stage in the Franklin Theater, and sharing their videos, songs, and projects with other students in the program.

NEED always enjoys seeing the amazing projects the schools complete and getting the chance to celebrate with our PEEPs! We're so proud to work with PECO, TFI, The United Way, and all of the amazing students, teachers, and leaders in the Philly region. We can't wait to see what next year holds!

Philadelphia Science Festival & Northley Middle School showcase what STEM is all about

Each spring, Philadelphia hosts a week-long, city-wide science festival.  Events include lectures, dinners, tours, stargazing, trivia, pub crawls (for adults, of course), exhibits, and more. The festival is organized by The Franklin Institute, Philly's science museum that is named after Benjamin Franklin. Each year, the festival culminates in a giant outdoor carnival, a free event for anyone to showcase how they “science”, and how STEM can take on so many different forms. It is a fantastic day for everyone to learn and explore.  Booths house everything from catapults, to computers, to cats, and are great for all ages.

NEED is lucky enough to take part in the carnival each year with our friends from The Franklin and PECO.  The PECO Energizing Education Program, hosts a booth each year, and NEED joins PEEP teachers in running the booth to share about the program. This year, the PEEP booth grew in size and in energy level as we welcomed some of the program's star students to run our show. 

PEEP began 8 years ago, and each year Northley Middle School students have continued to “wow” us with their energy education efforts and STEM project creations.  This year the program tasked each school with completing a STEM challenge – to build or design something to showcase what they've learned about energy.  Northley allows their students to pick a topic and challenge of their choice, but they must create something hands-on that works!  One of their very dedicated teachers, Ms. Deborah Blaisse, recognized that the students had put together some excellent projects this year, and that a few of them might be interested in showcasing their work at the carnival. We were so pleased to have 16 eighth graders join us for a day at the carnival...and on a Saturday no less.

The students brought their projects, which were actually very much like hands-on museum displays. The student demonstrations included Jacobs Ladders, a catapult, a working hydroelectric generator that powered lights, a generator model, a Van de Graaff generator, a pinball machine, and more. All were student built!  The students worked all day to explain their exhibit piece and how it related to energy. A few student projects were so well loved that the projects became broken from all the experimenting. These students did their best to fix and explain why they had broken and how to fix them. One student worked for an hour refurbishing his project, and telling anyone who was interested what he was up to. And they were interested!

Ms. Blaisse's class certainly showcased their energy knowledge and exemplified that STEM learning and exploration can be fun, and it can be for everyone. A few of the students told us that science and math were never their favorite subjects, until they got the chance to explore in the way they did creating their Energy STEM challenge project.

Check out these amazing pictures and videos of Northley's 8th graders. They learned a lot, but taught us even more! The students seemed to enjoy themselves, too. Here are just a few of their thoughts on the day:

“I had a great time at the festival, because I was able to teach others. Most parents were surprised at how well we knew our stuff!”  - Cody
“At the festival, I was asked several times what college our presentations were supposed to represent. I was impressed and proud of Northley's hard work.”  - Madison

NEED, The Franklin Institute, and the PECO Energizing Education Program are so proud of Northley and our PEEP students. We hope to continue having student-led booth exhibits going forward, because kids teaching kids is what it's all about. Ms. Blaisse truly inspired her students to do great things, and they rose to the challenge. What a wonderful group of students and a great day at the Carnival! 

NEED Brings Energy and Chocolate Syrup to the USA Science and Engineering Festival

By Cassie Chesson

There were lots of chocolatey hands at the USA Science and Engineering Festival this weekend, as NEED was there with chocolate syrup in tow! Hundreds of students filed through booth 4820 to play Getting the Oil out, a critical thinking activity that requires students to suck thick oil (chocolate syrup) and thin oil (cola) out of two wells using pipes (straws) that they construct. It's a viscous lesson in engineering!

If that wasn't enough energy fun, students could head over to the other side of the booth and challenge themselves to light a bulb using only the materials they saw on the table. There were alligator clips, batteries, flashlight bulbs, and tin foil. Trial and error was the name of the game and boy were they excited to see the light!

The event, held at the Walter E. Reed Convention Center in D.C. drew thousands of participants. Student groups and teachers used Friday as a field-trip opportunity and parents came out in droves with their kids over the weekend. Thank goodness for the staff help we had to keep the challenging questions, chocolate syrup, and fun well-stocked!

NEED Loves its PEEPs!

Last week, NEED was happy to be back in Philly to help kick-off yet another awesome year of the PECO Energizing Education Program. This amazing program, funded in part by the Exelon Foundation and PECO, gives teachers and students in the greater Philadelphia region the opportunity to learn about energy and share their excitement with their communities.

PEEP United Way Afterschool Program
On Wednesday and Thursday, NEED teamed up with PECO and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to begin the 5th year of PEEP Afterschool programming. Leaders and teachers from six area afterschool programs came together to review energy concepts, try out new activities, participate in energy challenges, and plan their energy units.  Students in the afterschool setting learn about everything energy and then plan and carry out community outreach to share their energy knowledge and inspire positive change. Students come together at the end of the year to present their results to the other programs by performing skits, songs, dances, and creating videos. Their events and outreach projects have been truly amazing and impactful we can't wait to see what this year holds at their year-end celebration in June! Plus, all of the kids look so cute on stage in their t-shirts!


PEEP for Schools
Friday took PEEP to The Franklin Institute, one of Philadelphia's fantastic science museums. The Franklin Institute, PECO, and NEED teamed up to begin PEEP programming for schools in the Philadelphia region. In its eighth year, PEEP's in-school programming has students learning about and exploring energy concepts and engaging in an energy-focused STEM challenge project. At the end of the program each school will submit a summary of their challenge(s), and students will present their results, projects, and designs at the Philadelphia Science Festival Carnival held on April 30th.  The carnival will bring together students and learners of all ages to share in their passion for science.
To energize and prepare for teachers for the challenge projects in their own classrooms, we had our own challenges for the teachers. In small groups, PEEP teachers competed to create the best wind turbine, to generate the most electricity with their generator models, to bring oil to the surface quickly, and to build the most energy efficient homes.  They were having fun and learning too!   We are so excited to see the rock star projects our PEEPs create with their students!


We are so lucky to have great partners in PECO, TFI, and The United Way to continue this fantastic program and couldn't be more proud of the students and teachers involved! Check back in May and June for updates on all of the amazing things the PECO Energizing Education Programs accomplish this year. Interested in learning more about PEEP?  Check it out:

Houston Area Teachers Feed Their Love for Energy Education

On December 1st, NEED and Shell teamed up to provide another fantastic day of energy education activities for 60 teachers from the greater Houston area. The workshop was held in the community room of the nation's largest food donation foundation, and Feeding America's Food Bank of the Year, the Houston Food Bank. When focusing on energy, it's extra special to spend our day workshopping in a building that practices sustainability and puts its energy back into the community!

Teachers started off their day with a quick round of Bingo and a welcome from Karen Labat, Manager of Social Investment at Shell. Hands-on activities began with NEED's Science of Energy as they investigated the forms of energy and how energy transforms in common items. These activities were wrapped up with a discussion about energy use in the United States and how each form of energy is embodied in the ten sources of energy we use to power our lives. Before heading to lunch, teachers then got their trivia game on with a game of Energy Enigma. Each team assumed the identity of an energy source and revealed bits of information about themselves to other teams. Each team hazarded guesses based on the little information they were given to earn points. This group had so much fun with trivia that they delayed going to lunch!!

Following lunch, teachers investigated the oil and natural gas industry with two hands-on activities that model exploration and production. In NEED's Core Sampling investigation, teachers model the core sampling technique employed by petroleum geologists when exploring for resources below the surface. With Getting the Oil Out, teachers try to simulate the production process and the use of artificial pressure when bringing liquids to the surface. This segment of the workshop was closed with a look into the production challenges of wells over their lifetime with the game Peak Oil.

Participants then learned about the end uses of petroleum by exploring the polymers activities from NEED's Science of Racing suite of activities. Teachers got their hands dirty and created polymerization reactions and learned about the many applications of processing petroleum to create products. Teachers also discussed and learned about how petroleum is used the racing industry, from fuels to polymers in safety gear and clothing. Teachers got a glimpse into smarter mobility by playing NEED's Pretzel Power, a game that aims to teach students about the importance of MPG ratings in vehicles.

The day ended with a game of Energy Web, where participants discussed how one part of an energy system in homes or schools can be connected or affected by another part of the system. Conserving our energy and employing efficient technologies saves money, saves resources, and allows our systems to function together smoothly.

Thanks to the generous support of Shell, teachers who participated in the day will receive their choice of NEED Science of Energy Kit or NEED Fossil Fuels to Products Kit! It was a wonderful day to join together at the food bank and feed our energy knowledge. See you again soon, Houston!

Hawaiian Teachers Are Energized about Efficiency and Conservation!

Did you know that the state of Hawaii has set a goal that by the year 2040, 100% of the state's energy needs will come from renewable sources? That's a pretty serious goal, one that is unmatched by many of our 50 states. Over 80 percent of Hawaii's energy comes from petroleum, much of which is used for electricity generation and transportation. Because of the islands' unique and beautiful geography, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal are abundant, but are the only sources naturally available. Renewables, however, make up only 10% of Hawaii's energy consumption. Consequently, 90% of the energy Hawaiians use must be shipped into their ports and near off-shore facilities. Hawaiians, on average, pay $0.26 to $0.40 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity - nearly three times the national average! For many folks that live in this beautiful island state, energy is a very real cost and concern. But how will they manage to meet their current and future demands while reducing their costs and dependence on petroleum?

NEED is proud to partner with Hawaii Energy to provide Hawaiian teachers and keiki - that's Hawaiian for children - with a program that will engage them in understanding how energy is used on the islands, and most importantly, how students, families, and schools can work together to save energy, benefitting their wallets and the islands. Energy education is just one important step in helping Hawaiians meet their energy goals.

Last week, Hawaii Energy and NEED kicked off their 2015-2016 program year with two workshops on the island of Oahu. Nearly 100 teachers came together over the two days to learn more about energy consumption in their schools and homes and how it relates to energy use on the islands. Teachers began the workshop with a NEED's Change-a-Light Bingo, and a welcome from Hawaii Energy sponsor, Chelsea Harder. Throughout the day, participants explored how different parts of a building can use and waste energy. Teachers measured this energy use with tools from NEED's Monitoring and Mentoring Kit, such as hygrometers, light meters, and Kill-A –WattTM meters. Participants had a great time testing out the various tools throughout the workshop space and discussed strategies for using the tools and related activities with students in the classroom setting. The groups also played NEED's Energy Web Game to explore how all of the parts of a building system work together.

Participants also got to chat with mentor teachers and teacher advisory board members in the Hawaii Energy program. Laura Cummings, Krista Keiser, and Ku'ulei Tengan, three local teachers, all shared about how their students engage in the activities and shared strategies for success in teaching about energy. The workshop also exposed teachers to additional Hawaii Energy programming that can not only help them teach energy in the classroom, but also reduce their costs as individual consumers. Tori Suarez from the Hawaii Department of Education's Ka Hei program, also stopped by to share about exciting PD opportunities for teachers, as well as programs that will help schools to couple energy education and STEM learning with the DOE's updates to school facilities.

As participants in the program, teachers who attended will receive NEED's Monitoring and Mentoring Kit and guides for their classroom, Hawaii Energy Conservation Contract, mentor teacher support, and more. Teachers will also have the opportunity to apply for additional programming. One such program provides applicants with all the materials they will need to host an Energy Expo or carnival in their building. Energy Expos are a great way for students to share their energy knowledge gains with their community. Another program option provides teacher applicants and their students and families with home energy savings kits. These kits contain energy efficient devices like LED bulbs, showerheads, and smart power strips, that will help students incorporate their classroom learning into their homes. So much fun!

NEED loves working with Hawaii teachers! The Aloha spirit is a real thing, and we are so thankful to be welcomed back in February for more workshops on Maui and Hawaii (The Big Island). We wish our Oahu teachers well as they unpack their kits and get started energizing their students with energy activities. Mahalo to all those who participated – it was a wonderful few days!

Aloha for now, Hawaii!