MAR 2016
A Bright Future: How to Integrate Renewable Energy into the Classroom

Renewable energy continues to grow and many teachers are now looking to incorporate it into STEM-centric curricula (science, technology, engineering, and math). Bringing in new material can be difficult, however, so here we share some tips on how to do it.

Start with fourth to sixth grade   
If you’re looking for a good place to start, try Earth Science classes in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades as these classes typically fall around or slightly after planned units on electricity. These grade levels also are great starting points in general because it’s typically fairly easy to adjust lesson plans compared to high school-level courses.    

With high school students, focus on the future
Many expert predictions project a growing number of opportunities for careers in STEM-related fields, so for high school-level lessons in renewables, the recommendation is to focus on college and career readiness. Have students analyze and present ideas on renewable energy and use the current news cycle as a source of ideas.

After-school programs are another great option for high school students. Many schools have been successful in creating extracurricular programs to help high schoolers understand conservation, efficiency, and renewables. This can be a good way to take advantage of existing resources when budgets are tight.

Get hands-on (and save money in the process)
If your school is considering incorporating solar into its energy mix to save money on energy bills, be sure the system offers real-time monitoring. That way, a whole new hands-on learning experience can comes into your school’s STEM-centric curricula — not to mention all the free and easy field trips it will inspire.

With real-time monitoring, students can see how daily weather patterns affect system output, allowing them to understand energy production in a tangible way. Web-based monitoring tools provide a wealth of data and often show production-levels at locations around the world. This lets students make insightful comparisons and spot trends over time.

Take advantage of free resources
Many organizations offer free STEM curriculum resources including the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, New York’s Solar One initiative, and Energy Kids — an information portal created by the U.S. Energy Administration. It offers dozens of games, puzzles, and quizzes to support energy-centric course material.

Resources built around the Common Core standards can be another easy way for schools to integrate STEM and renewable energy lessons. Schools Power is a nonprofit that provides innovative Common Core-based lessons that fit easily into existing curricula.