Advanced Energy Inspires Ohio Curricula

Courtney Howard
August 10, 2009

 Nine science and math teachers from high schools throughout southeastern Ohio stood huddled in the shadow of Ohio University’s compost facility in the midst of a lively debate about why the skins of purple vegetables, like eggplant and red onion, don’t decompose well. From there, the conversation drifted to the acid-content of oak leaves and finally to the problems with adding meat scraps to a home compost bin.
While many of the teachers composted and gardened at home, and were familiar with composting techniques, none had seen a compost system as large as the one that sat before them.
Since January, the OU compost system has been turning campus food waste and biodegradable plates, spoons and forks into toxin-free fertilizer for the university grounds. The compost facility serves as a prime example of how advanced energy technologies are changing the every-day behavior of large communities.
For the teachers, whose visit to the compost site was part of a four-day Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition workshop, the facility was an ideal place to wrap up three days of tours and trainings before sitting down together to develop curricula to bring back to their classrooms.
The STEM workshop was held by the Ohio Appalachian Educators Institute (OAEI), a partnership between Ohio University Southern and the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, with the help of funding from the National Educators Association (NEA) Foundation and the AT&T Foundation. Both foundations are part of a group of nearly 600 organizations, including the U.S. Department of Education, that support STEM nationwide, providing educators and students with tools to promote academic achievement and career interest in mathematics and the sciences.
Asked by the NEA Foundation and the AT&T Foundation to participate as a rural partner on the high school level, interim director Dr. Lesli Johnson said the OAEI chose to concentrate this year’s four-day workshop on advanced energy.
With an increased nationwide focus on the implementation of advanced energy technologies, “it is more important than ever that students gain the knowledge, and the training, they need to thrive in a changing workforce,” said Dr. Johnson.
Seven southeastern Ohio school districts sent nine teachers to participate in the workshop. The first three days were focused on meeting, and learning from, Athens business owners and members of the university community, who are leading the way in advanced energy technology. On the fourth day, after a presentation by curriculum expert Dr. Don Washburn, of the Lawrence County Educations Service Center, the teachers worked in small groups to develop curricula that they will introduce into their classrooms this fall. Their curricula will also be posted to the Web for other teachers to view and utilize.
In addition to the tour of OU’s compost site, the teachers visited Ohio University’s Ecohouse, a university-owned student rental that has been retrofitted with the latest energy-saving technology, including solar panels, an “always hot” water heater, and a rainwater cistern; and the Innovation Center, which houses an array of environmentally-friendly and sustainable business start-ups.
The educators also heard from a variety of OU professors about innovative research being done in advanced energy, sustainability initiatives on the university campus, and work being done to raise environmental literacy among OU students.
Lawrence King, who teaches physical science at Warren High School in Warren County was amazed to discover some of the new research being done at OU. “The OAEI/STEM workshop really opened my eyes to what’s being done in advanced energy systems,” King said. “I’m excited about bringing what I’ve learned back to my students, particularly the information about hydrogen generation, which could be the wave of the future.”
Another participant, Randy McClay of the Valley Local School District in Scioto County, thought what they had learned and seen in the workshop would prove invaluable in the classroom. An 11th and 12th grade teacher of chemistry and material science, McClay said that “showing our students how the things they learn in the classroom are implemented and relevant in the real world is very important. We’ve been able to gather a lot of good examples over the past three days.”
For her part, Dr. Johnson felt the workshop was a success. She and her team are already working to plan two more OAEI/STEM programs, one in 2010 and the other in 2011. “We’ve received interest from math teachers in holding one workshop devoted exclusively to math, given how difficult it can be to find real-world applications to aid in teaching math to students,” Dr. Johnson said. “We’re also considering going a little broader next year, focusing on the environment in general.”
"(It's been) fun...learning about so much new and exciting research," McClay remarked as the group made its way through the woods, back to the Voinovich School from the compost facility.  The rest of the group unanimously agreed.