Middle school students learn new ways to go green during Camp Energy
Washington D.C. has decided to go green, and at Camp Energy, 36 middle-school students from the Bryan Independent School District (BISD) prepared for the challenge. Camp Energy, which was held between June 22 and 26 at Davila Middle School in Bryan, was organized by BISD and the Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL), a center within the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). The children learned about energy transformation, energy efficiency, and alternative fuels through field trips to Bryan Texas Utility’s Dansby Power Plant, Texas A&M University’s College of Architecture, the TEES Spacecraft Technology Center, the Dwight Look College of Engineering’s Nuclear Science Center and the TEES/MixAlco pilot biomass conversion plant. "I enjoyed the field trips. Especially the one to the space center, because I want to build spacecrafts when I grow up," said 13-year-old Hunter Denton. Don Gilman, an assistant research engineer in ESL, who conceptualized the program, said that the aim of the field trips was twofold: "Besides exposing the children to energy concepts, we wanted to increase their awareness about different high-level jobs involving science, math and engineering." The children applied the different energy concepts they learned during the field trips in hands-on activities. They constructed energy-efficient house models, built miniature waterwheels and windmills, conducted energy audits of household appliances and a school building and raced solar cars. "I think the students enjoyed the hands-on activities. We did not give them too many rules, just the basics. The ideas and innovation are all their own." said Jessica Mahaffey, a biology teacher at Bryan High School, who says Camp Energy has benefitted her too by helping her become better informed about energy-efficient building materials. Camp Energy activities were designed to mimic real-world situations. For example, to build energy-efficient houses, the children were given budgets ranging from $105,000 to $115,000. They had to buy all building materials, which were realistically priced, using this budget. "I was worried when we spent $100,000 of our $115,000 to buy the cardboard box for the house," said 11-year-old Kristin O’Neill who along with team member Denton built the house with the lowest internal temperature. "But we still managed to stay within budget." Houses built with both high and low budgets were comparable in terms of energy efficiency noted Sally Keller, a sixth-grade science teacher at Sam Rayburn Middle School. "I think we managed to show the children that going green need not be expensive," Keller said. The camp organizers now face the challenge of translating the camp activities into classroom activities that are aligned with TEKS requirements. "The teachers have been working hard during the camp, noting what works and what doesn’t," Gilman said. "The participants have also taken pre- and post-tests. Besides cost, time and storage are concerns. The only way to do these activities in classrooms effectively will be to virtualize them. I keep seeing the Muppet scientist in his lab, but online using Flash technology." Camp Energy sponsors included the Brazos Valley Affordable Housing Co-op., City of Bryan-Sustainability Office, Bryan Texas Utilities and the Brazos Valley Association of Home Builders. TEES is the engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System. Camp Energy is part of a larger plan to extend energy education in schools, called "Integrated School Energy Education and Building Improvement" or ISEEBI. For more information, visit http://iseebi.tamu.edu.