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Generating an electric curriculum

Feb 01, 2018 03:22AM ● Published by Jet Burnham

With pom-poms and pinwheels as props, students act out the progress of electricity from power plant to homes. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

Excitement crackled through students at Hawthorn Academy as they formed a human circuit of electricity as part of an interactive presentation from Rocky Mountain Power’s WattSmart Program. The program introduced the fifth-graders to the concepts they would be covering in their upcoming science unit.

“This program takes an abstract concept and provides very real examples of how electricity is applied in our daily life, helping students place their learning in context,” said Candalyn Winder, Hawthorne’s International Baccalaureate curriculum specialist. By utilizing an IB curriculum, teachers at Hawthorn Academy encourage students to ask “why?” 

“The IB philosophy is grounded in inquiry—using questions to help students build their own understanding,” said Winder. The WattSmart presentation touches on many of the concepts in the fifth-grade science core curriculum.

Students volunteered to participate in the presentation, answering the questions of how a process plant generates power and how power moves through the power grid, enters homes and powers appliances. 

Diane Baum and Pam King of the National Energy Foundation (sponsored by RMP) had student volunteers form a circuit. Standing in a circle with fingers touching, the fifth-graders caused an energy stick to light up. Presenters asked students to consider which materials would conduct the current through their human circuit and which would interrupt it. As a sheet of aluminum foil, a pencil, a paper clip and a sheet of paper were put between the students’ hands, they made predictions. After this and several other experiments with the energy sticks, the fifth-grade teachers promised to buy some for students to use in their classrooms.

Other questions the presenters posed to students were how electricity works, why electricity arcs, how voltage works and how electricity travels through the public utility system.

The RMP presentation also stressed to students the importance of safety around power lines and outlets.

“Safety is a key message that they need when they start experimenting with circuits in the classroom,” said Winder. That is why the presentation was scheduled before the classes began their unit of study.

Fifth-grade teachers said students benefit from the WattSmart Program Presentation because it prepares them for their science unit, which includes a lot of hands-on activities. With teachers Michelle Petrulsky, Angela Anderson and Joylynne Brown, students ask questions and conduct their own experiments in class to find the answers. They execute more extensive tests to explore conductors and insulators with materials such as balloons, paper clips and strips of flannel.

Once students understand the concepts, they apply them. Students create their own circuits to power a light. Building on those concepts, they advance to building a circuit with a light that uses a switch to control the flow of electricity.

Students apply the knowledge gained from experiments with static electricity to participate in a soda can race. They generate static electricity by pushing and pulling soda cans with positively and negatively charged ions to shoot them across the gym floor to the finish line.

The WattSmart presentation also engaged students in discussion of energy efficiency and conservation. They outlined how students could use technology and simple changes in their daily behaviors to increase efficiency of both electricity and water usage. Students received a booklet from RMP to take home as a resource for their families. They were encouraged to share what they’d learned at home and were promised a free LED nightlight if the whole class returned a RMP survey completed by their parents to their teacher the next day.

Dr. Deborah L. Swensen, superintendent/lead director for Hawthorn Academy, said the school puts into practice the concepts taught by the WattSmart program.

“We have solar panels on the roof of the building,” she said. “We also set thermostats to save on energy at night, over the weekends and over long holidays. This year, we changed out our lights to be LED lights throughout the building and in the parking lot.” 

Education, Today

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