Enhancing Energy Literacy through Place-based Learning: Using the School Building to Link Energy Use with Earth Systems

This exploratory project will design, pilot, and evaluate a 10-weeek, energy literacy curriculum unit for a program called Energy and Your Environment (EYE). In the EYE curriculum, students will study energy use and transfer in their own school buildings. They will explore how Earth systems supply renewable and nonrenewable energy, and how these energy sources are transformed and transferred from Earth systems to a school building to meet its daily energy requirements.

Full Description: 

Student understanding of energy concepts about Earth systems and human-built systems require grappling with current societal issues related to resource use and management, energy sources, climate impacts, and sustainability. These relationships are challenging for students and underdeveloped in many science curriculum frameworks. This exploratory project will design, pilot, and evaluate a 10-weeek, energy literacy curriculum unit for a program called Energy and Your Environment (EYE). In the EYE curriculum, students will study energy use and transfer in their own school buildings. They will explore how Earth systems supply renewable and nonrenewable energy, and how these energy sources are transformed and transferred from Earth systems to a school building to meet its daily energy requirements. Learning about complex ideas in a place that is common to both students and teachers provides a means for deeper understanding and application of energy use and exchange. The research team includes researchers in biology and in architecture with an emphasis on natural resources and the environment. The researchers will work with four middle school science teachers to develop a curriculum unit that requires deep understanding of energy-systems models, but that will also be designed to apply to the school system and community. This is place-based learning aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards to foster energy literacy, modeling of energy use and flow, and systems thinking.

The research questions for this study will ask about students' ability to construct and explain models about energy use and exchange, as well as about teachers' use of the newly developed instructional materials. The research team will collaborate with 4 middle school teachers to design and test the unit in their classrooms. Data collection includes students' drawn models of the energy systems in use in their school building, student and teacher interviews, classroom observations, and teacher questionnaires. Student understanding of the learning goals will be assessed through a learning performance on energy modeling, and an accompanying rubric to score student models and explanations. After an initial implementation of the unit in classrooms, the following summer, researchers and teachers will meet to revise the curriculum materials. Then, teachers new to the curriculum unit will participate in the professional development required to teach the EYE unit. They will introduce the revised unit to their students in the next year, as researchers collect data and evaluate student learning for the revised curriculum materials. Overall, the project intends to include about 600 middle school students.

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