Exploring energy activities after school

Students with a solar oven

Each fall and spring our school offers an after school program to give students an opportunity to explore everything from cooking to bowling, art to science. This year I changed my teaching assignment and am no longer teaching science. The after school program offered the perfect opportunity to connect with students interested in learning more about energy. Although the class was advertised as “Alternative Energy Fun!” the students were excited to participate in any and all energy investigations.

In the fall we started our investigations with some solar energy activities. The students were able to use some Vernier temperature probes, radiation cans, sand, and water to investigate the energy absorption of the different colors and materials. The students also decided to cook bagel pizzas and s’mores in solar ovens. Solar energy in Michigan is not very reliable or intense in October so we set up some 100 watt incandescent lights above our solar ovens to simulate the sun.  We only had an hour so everything was warm but we needed a little more cook time. I didn’t hear any complaining and everyone enjoyed their snacks.

Next, we spent some investigating fossil fuels. The students watched a video to give them some background for oil and natural gas exploration and production. They really enjoyed using the slinky to investigate the differences in sound waves.  The density activity stimulated a lot of discussion. They really wanted to find items that would “float” in the middle. They discovered the high water content items were the best choices. The highlight of these investigations was the cornstarch and water polymer. They made a mess while getting the consistency right because it seems after school measuring accurately is not quite as important. However, everyone was able to take home a bag to show their family.

Classes have just started this spring. Students have investigated the blade variables that affect the electricity output of a wind turbine. Next, they will be applying the knowledge they gained from the wind turbine to put together a water turbine. After that, students will develop their own solar ovens. Hopefully the weather will warm up and another cooking day will be even more successful.

In addition to the after school group, I have enjoyed the opportunity to do two teacher trainings this winter. The first was in Gaylord, Michigan in December. The teachers were warm and welcoming unlike the frigid winter temperatures.  The February workshop in Livonia wasn’t any warmer but the 25 teachers in attendance had a great day.