Outreach on the Klamath

kids creating solar circuits

Students use small PV panels to create solar buzzers. (Photo Credit SERC)

This past spring, SERC visited three elementary schools on the Yurok Reservation: Weitchpec Elementary, Margaret Keating School, and Jack Norton School. The goal was to inspire and teach Yurok youth about basic energy concepts, renewable energy technologies, and energy efficiency. The events were part of a community-wide energy education campaign for SERC’s “Human Capacity Building in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” project with the Yurok Tribe.

Our elementary energy curriculum starts with a primer on what we mean by “energy” and “power” and where energy comes from. We then explain how renewable energy is different from conventional energy sources, and provide real-world examples of renewable energy through discussing some of the renewable energy projects we are involved in at SERC.

Once the foundation of energy concepts are laid, we play our power consumption guessing game called “Watts Up?” to help the students understand energy use. In the game, teams of students have the task of guessing how much power typical home appliances consume. The appliance is plugged into a power meter, turned on, and the team that was closest gets a point. In addition to the inevitable surprises we get from the difference between a radio and a toaster (4 W vs. 1000 W), “Watts Up?” gives students the opportunity to do math and convert watts of power to watt-hours of energy. Finally, we challenge students to put renewable energy in action by building their own solar electric circuits that power buzzers and fans. This hands-on activity is a fun way to end the lesson and for students to get first hand experience making solar energy work, even when it is cloudy like it was at Margaret Keating School. Luckily for the Jack Norton school children, it was sunny enough to demonstrate a solar oven, and we cooked cinnamon rolls during the outside activities. The oven was able to reach temperatures of 250 °F and cooked the rolls in about 45 minutes. After lunch, we shared our solar powered dessert with the whole school; it was a big hit.

It is heartening to see how students think about energy. In particular, the students at Jack Norton School have a unique perspective on energy, as all the students live off the grid. And, in addition to providing students the tools they need to think about energy efficiency and conservation, each student was given a compact fluorescent light bulb (one of the “Watts Up?” appliances) and energy information brochures so that they could put into practice at home what they learned in the classroom.