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Energy Education Now: The National Energy Education and Development Project

After a few weeks of researching college and university-level energy education programs, I found myself wondering about initiatives that are getting primary and secondary students interested in energy. So for this weeks profile on Energy Education, I interviewed Rebecca Lamb, the Program Director of the National Energy Education and Development Project. Known as “NEED,” the project focuses on energy education and curricula targeted toward K-12 students.

What is NEED?

RL: NEED is a nonprofit organization that focuses on energy education. Its mission is to create an energy literate society in order to help people better understand energy. This way they know what happens, for example, when they turn the light switch on and know how to make good decisions about energy use.

What types or ages of students is NEED focused on?

RL: NEED works with K-12 students in all 50 states, basically across the grade and age spectrum, beginning with younger ages and spiraling to high school level where curriculum can be more in depth. We also work in career and technical education, teaching things like engineering and electricity courses. We know that the energy industry is becoming a graying industry and because of that there is a growing need for young people to go into those fields.

What energy education initiatives is NEED focused on at the moment?

RL: Because we work in many different energy realms our curricula in turn focuses on a lot of different aspects of energy. We have recently been working on our solar schools program, [which] educates students about solar energy by putting solar panels on schools. The program also implements data monitoring so students can use their school’s solar energy as a learning tool to meet the standards that they need to meet in the classroom using real world data.

We’ve also been doing a lot with energy efficiency curriculum and training. Energy efficiency is often one of the largest costs for a school or a home. So not only are their environmental incentives for people to make their schools and homes energy efficient, but there are financial incentives for most people as well.

In terms of different kinds of energy, we offer training on the entire spectrum of energy sources, not just one particular source or kind of energy. Our activities cover all types of energy, because we believe it’s important that students know what kinds of energy we use now. We want them to do the research to find out what sources we currently use, and what we might use in the future. We want to let kids make those choices.

How is NEED working to making our world “greener”?

RL: We believe that education is key to understanding our energy situation. That’s why a lot of our initiatives are education and classroom-based. Outside of the classroom is where we’re able to do more expensive trainings, whether its implementing solar panels in schools or training students to do their own energy audits.

What energy education successes are you most proud of?

RL: Lately we’ve done a lot of work in the state of Kentucky. There we’ve been working in career and technical education to create career pathways for students. Our focus is to help them understand careers are available in different energy fields and help them decide what energy education is needed for them to get there.

Also we’ve been doing a lot with our solar schools program in Texas. We’ve actually been installing solar panels in schools around the state and helping them collect data about their schools’ solar energy. Students are able to compare this data and analyze it. For example they could try to find out why in certain areas of the state the temperature and solar output is different from other areas.

What are some of the current challenges to implementing energy education?

RL: One of the biggest challenges is that teachers don’t traditionally have a lot of background or experience in energy, so their comfort level is often not as high as you might want it to be.  Though they do a lot of teacher training, their training might only include a few science classes in college and on that alone they are expected to teach a whole energy curriculum.

Another challenge is simply that energy education is in competition with everything else that’s out there to teach. But one of the cool things about energy education is that it really crosses the curriculum. You can teach students about energy in science classes, math classes, even social studies and reading classes. Energy education is really unique in that way.

How is NEED tracking its progress toward better energy education?

RL: We do both immediate short term studies and comprehensive analyses. Our most recent “report card” is available online.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in getting involved in energy studies?

RL: One of the cool things about energy is that it really is something that we deal with an on daily basis. Whether you know about it or not, when you turn on your electricity or use your car you’re getting involved with energy. And the energy industry is a huge industry, so there are many fields you can go into, whether you’re fixing a wind turbine, or doing community outreach or on a business team. There are so many ways to get involved once you find your interest.

Rachel Harkai is a freelance writer who studied environmental science and creative writing at the University of Michigan. In addition to writing for local and national publications Rachel currently works as a Writer-in-Residence with InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

Posted on: April 28, 2010, 9:00 am Category: Energy Education Now: Series, Profiles in Sustainability Education Tagged with: , , , , ,

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