Beams, blades, and light bulb moments: hands-on learning is the key to renewable energy education for youth

With the flick of a switch, a box fan whirrs to life. A group of grade 5 students point it at a small wind turbine they have carefully assembled and connected to a voltmeter. They are in a friendly competition with their classmates to see whose turbine generates the most electrical potential – in other words, whose turbine is the most powerful. There’s a lot of learning happening all at once, but these students are not in a classroom, at least not a traditional one.

Last week was the 2015 Kids World of Energy Festival (KWEF) at the Evergreen Brick Works, hosted by TREC Education. The annual event (now in its 8th year) is three days of workshops for more than 1600 grade 5 and 6 students, where they have the chance to learn about solar energy using real solar panels, discover nature in the city on a hike along the Don Valley, or test their knowledge of electricity in a game called “Electric Circle,” which is a lot like musical chairs with an energy conservation twist.

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This year, students also had the opportunity to learn about traditional Indigenous relationships with the environment, through stories told by Elder Garry Sault from the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, and drumming and dancing led by Michele Perpaul and the Spirit Wind singers. In all, students attended 5 workshops throughout the day, with overarching themes of environmental protection and climate change action.

TREC Education is the only charity of its kind that focuses specifically on renewable energy education, getting kids engaged in the energy system through hands-on learning activities. It is this hands-on approach that Kelly Park, Communications and Events Coordinator for TREC Education, says is key to getting kids interested in energy and the environment.

While visiting the festival, I asked Kelly how she knows this approach is working. She said,

“I just had a volunteer come by from a workshop called ‘Captain Conductor,’ where the students learn about insulators and conductors. This volunteer said that it’s amazing to watch a child have that learning moment while working with the tools, where they just get it. We joke about calling it a ‘light bulb’ moment, but that’s what it is. That’s happening everywhere on site today.”

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A student asks a question during a workshop on water

While the workshops are inspiring, the site itself is also wonderful: a perfect relic of post-industrial landscape taken over by nature. As one volunteer put it,

“The right atmosphere goes a long way. Being here [at the Evergreen Brick Works] encourages stronger learning and enhances the experience, because they are connected to the environment.”

 

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Workshops took place throughout the Evergreen Brick Works, including in The Kilns

 

There’s no need to worry about the future when surrounded by such a curious and engaged group of environmentally conscious young people. I asked Kelly about this, whether she thinks these kids will be better than their parents and grandparents when it comes to environmental responsibility. Her response:

“Well, for the generation previous to ours, recycling was new. People were having trouble with it. Now, in our ‘Recycle Relay’ activity where we ask kids to recycle, the kids are so used to it. They say, ‘we know how to do this.’ It’s normal to them.

In the same way, I would like to think that these students and their generation are now a lot more aware of renewables, and that the change is already happening. As long as people are getting the right facts, support and interest will only grow. I hope by the time they are older, renewable energy is just a part of their daily lives, just like recycling.”

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Volunteers like these make KWEF possible

The environmental and energy education offered at KWEF provides the foundation for a lifetime of engagement with the energy system for these students. By taking a hands-on approach to learning, these kids are gaining a deep appreciation and understanding of the theories and technologies that will address climate change– and they’re having fun doing it.

 

 

TREC EducationTrecEDLogoFinal.transparent delivers renewable energy education programs in classrooms and at community events across Ontario – creating systemic change for a greener future and fostering the next generation of renewable energy leaders. They directly engage more than 10,000 students and adults each year.

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