Should We Build a Dam?


Brandon DeBritzby Brandon DeBritz

A Junior High STEM Exploration into Hydroelectric Energy with the use of the PowerWheel

When we talk about electricity and where it comes from in the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric energy production is a key source and natural opportunity for teaching.  Part of the curriculum used in the South Kitsap School District in Port Orchard, WA is SEPUP ‘Weathering and Erosion’.  Students explore the Earth processes of weathering, erosion, and deposition all the while considering where to expand residential development in an expanding fictional town along the northwest coast.  This year, students at Cedar Heights Junior High were presented with a new factor to consider for this situation, ’should we build a dam on the town’s river to provide energy for the expanding electrical needs of the city?’ This new situation opened the door for a STEM unit, ‘The Energy of Moving Water’ from the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project (free teacher and student curriculum guides are available from their website  www.need.org).  From this platform, students were engaged in activities and research to explore: what electricity is and how it is created, the designs of a hydroelectric dam and how they work, as well as many of the environmental, economic, social, and political issues around the construction and use of dams. Through a school partnership with RB Industries and the PowerWheel, students explored the fundamental elements of creating electricity through the transfer of moving water.  Picture #1     Read the rest of this entry »


The Old Dog and the New Tricks


Crawford jpegby:  Ken Crawford

An amazing thing happened to me about 18 months ago…I learned something new!  Now, I know that might not seem like a major thing…but for a person who has been a social studies teacher and administrator for 30 + years…I sometimes think that I have seen it all…nothing much new out there…but a single phone call changed all of that.

I received a call from a friend asking if I would be willing to meet with a gentleman who had invented a new teaching “tool”.  He wanted to know if it would help teachers to be more effective in their classrooms.  More effective teaching is something that I am always interested in…so I agreed to meet.

What I had a chance to see was a teaching tool called the PowerWheel. A micro hydro generator, it had the capability of using water from a sink to create enough electricity to light up a string of LED lights, charge up a cell phone or even power up a notepad.PowerWheel PowerWheel - 2

The PowerWheel

Roy Bentley, the inventor/designer, asked me if I thought it might be something that teachers could use to help them teach students about energy.  I remember telling him, “I’m a social studies teacher…we need to ask some science teachers”. I put together a focus group of teachers that represented grade levels from 3rd grade through college.  Some taught science all day long, others were expected to include science as part of their overall curriculum. We gathered them together in a room and just let them “play” with the PowerWheel.  We had a great time, received some great feedback and saw what fantastic teaching ideas can be generated by a group of enthusiastic educators! I think I learned more about science in one day than I had in the past 20 years….it was amazing!

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