Build it Green!: Enhancing Middle School Science Education through an Energy Efficient Building Design Curriculum

To act on energy issues, students need a strong understanding of energy flow and energy efficiency. However, students rarely have opportunities to learn about how buildings, such as their own school, drive about 40% of energy use and global carbon emissions. Addressing this gap in science education, this project will design, pilot, and evaluate a 6-week middle school curriculum called Build it Green! (BIG!). Blending classroom experiences and interactive digital learning tools, the researchers will work with rural middle schools in Missouri to implement and test how following the story of energy flow in and out of a hypothetical school building enhances students’ understanding of energy systems in the science of green buildings.

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To act on energy issues, students need a strong understanding of energy flow and energy efficiency. However, students rarely have opportunities to learn about how buildings, such as their own school, drive about 40% of energy use and global carbon emissions. Addressing this gap in science education, this project will design, pilot, and evaluate a 6-week middle school curriculum called Build it Green! (BIG!). Blending classroom experiences and interactive digital learning tools, the researchers will work with rural middle schools in Missouri to implement and test how following the story of energy flow in and out of a hypothetical school building enhances students’ understanding of energy systems in the science of green buildings. At the same time, the project partners with the Kummer Center for rural STEM education to support teachers’ understanding of engineering design principles, energy issues and place-based education.

BIG! will be enacted in rural classrooms and engage approximately 600 middle school students over time. Its quasi-experimental approach focuses on assessing students' ability to construct and explain models of energy systems and on teachers’ use of newly developed digital instructional tools such as visualizations. Data to be collected includes students' drawn models of the energy systems in their school building, surveys of students’ attitudes and behaviors, student and teacher interviews, classroom observations, and teacher questionnaires. Student understanding of BIG!’s learning goals will be determined through their energy models, explanations, and related rubric systems. A key goal of the work is to compare student engagement and learning across the digital format of BIG! and an analog format of the curriculum which was tested in a previous project, Energy and Your Environment (EYE, DRL- 2009127). In this way, the project can inform understanding of the relative affordances and limitations of instruction on energy flow that uses simulations rather than actual building materials. The project’s multidisciplinary research team includes researchers in science education, education technology, architecture, and building science. The curricular unit is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards to foster energy literacy, modeling of energy use and flow, and systems thinking.

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