“…my dream is being a technical engineer and you just gave me more hope.”
11 year-old boy, Queen Victoria PS
Last week, I was invited to attend Energy:Innovate, a special event hosted by TREC Education as part of National Engineering Month (NEM). A registered charity since 2010, TREC Education provides educational programming to elementary and high school students across Ontario about renewable energy and energy conservation.
Energy:Innovate engaged 200 students, ages 9 – 13, in a full day of hands-on learning at Queen Victoria Public School, located in the Parkdale community of Toronto. This workshop was divided into two parts- solar and wind energy- which took place simultaneously with two different facilitators. Being a solar energy enthusiast, I opted to start the day off at the solar group, eager to learn about the mechanisms of these tiny energy-harnessing panels.
The facilitator of the solar energy group was Abasi Sanders, TREC Education’s Program Manager. Abasi’s own energy levels were often just as high as the kids, who were intrigued and fascinated by the array of solar toys that were displayed in front of them. The most important piece of equipment, of course, was the small solar panel that was used to illustrate a typical solar array found on rooftop solar systems or solar farms. A desk lamp was used to mimic sunshine so that the kids could experiment with the level of solar radiation and measure the resulting electric voltage produced on an instrument called a multimeter.
What impressed the kids the most was when the solar panels were used to power different objects like motor fans, music boxes and solar toy cars. Abasi then instructed the kids to cover parts of the solar panel using their hands, in an attempt to teach them about the effects of shading on the amount of energy that was produced—the more shading there is, the less electricity will be produced. Lastly, the kids had a chance to test their solar panels by the windows with actual sunlight. They learned that even though the solar radiation isn’t as strong in the northern hemisphere during the winter months, solar arrays are still able to produce electricity with high efficiency.
Over at the wind energy group, the students had a chance to assemble miniature wind turbines by attaching turbine blades and conducting experiments by using large standing fans to mimic the source of wind. Regine Lam, the facilitator, appeared calm and collected in front of the group of loud and energetic kids—I learned that she is a teacher’s college graduate and an experienced outdoor educator, so handling large groups of active kids is second nature for her. Regine instructed the students to experiment with different sized blades, as well as the “pitch”, or the angle, of the blades, then to test out the speed of the turbines. They learned that blade size and a slight change in the pitch of the blades would have a large effect on the speed (and thus the electrical output) of the turbines.
In the next activity, Regine had the kids experiment with two different types of light bulbs—incandescent vs LED. The kids immediately noticed that as soon as the incandescent bulbs were connected to the turbines, they slowed the speed of the system significantly. This demonstrated how much more energy the incandescent bulbs consumed compared to the LED bulbs, something that a led to Regine’s next point- the linkage between energy consumption and climate change. Regine informed the kids that whenever we use energy intensive appliances or take part in greenhouse gas emitting activities like driving or flying, we are inadvertently contributing to climate change. This prompted the kids to think about the larger effects of their actions and the changes they can make to mitigate their environmental footprints.
Spending a day at these workshops led me to appreciate the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in schools, and the positive impact that it has on the younger generation. I was thoroughly impressed by the enthusiasm of the kids throughout the workshop, not to mention their willingness to learn, think, reflect, and solve problems that arose in the wind and solar projects. The value of interactive and hands-on learning-including the role of TREC’s engaged educators in the classroom- cannot be understated. Since the next generation will be the ones inheriting our earth, it is vital that they learn the skills and knowledge needed to preserve our environment and remediate any damages that have been done.
TREC Education’s goal for this event was to engage students in the world of engineering, where they were encouraged to think and act like engineers while working with renewable energy technologies. The students at Queen Victoria PS took this unique opportunity to don their engineering hats as they worked together in teams, and used their critical analysis and creative thinking skills to approach and find solutions to real world problems- which in this case, was climate change.
To get involved or book a program with TREC Education, visit their website at treceducation.ca. They are also hosting their 9th annual Kids’ World of Energy Festival (KWEF) at Evergreen Brick Works from May 4-7, 2016. KWEF is an event open to Grades 5-6 students, focusing on renewable energy, conservation, electricity and art through hands-on learning workshops and active participation. Visit our Educate page to learn about other organizations promoting energy literacy and environmental education right here in Ontario.