Energy and the Island Institute: The Framework Has It Right!

Energy is so important to Maine and so is energy education.  This week Ruth Kermish-Allen tells us about the Island Institute’s grant to support energy education in Maine and how this effort aligns with the ideas in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Here are Ruth’s thoughts…

When I first began exploring the A Framework for K-12 Science Education:  Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas, I was thrilled to see how the developers of the document identify and frame energy. The Framework writers treat energy as more than science content, they see it also as a crosscutting concept. It is a concept that emerges not only in science and technology, but virtually all disciplines.  As stated in the Framework and the American Association for the Advancement of Science “ these concepts transcend disciplinary boundaries and prove fruitful in explanation, in theory, in observation, and in design.” The same is true of all of the Framework’s cross-cutting concepts; 1) Patterns; 2) Cause and Effect; 2) Scale, Proportion, and Quantity; 3) Systems and Models; 4) Structure and Function; 5) Stability and Change; and of course 6) Energy and Matter, but living in Maine, energy is particularly important. An individual’s understanding of energy is integral to their understanding of the world around them.

Maine residents want and need to understand energy concepts. Maine residents pay some of the highest electric rates in the country and are more dependent on fossil fuels for heating than residents of any other state.  Over 80% of Maine families rely on heating oil (U.S. EIA, 2010).   For this reason, the Island Institute is extremely excited to be launching the Energy for ME program, funded by the National Science Foundation, in 10 coastal and island schools this year. Energy for ME adds to an existing wealth of energy education programming offered by the Maine Energy Education Partnership, the Maine Math and Science Alliance, and others.  In the Energy for ME program, students in grades 6-12 – and their families – are learning to better understand their communities’ energy-consumption habits and implications, and to develop effective strategies to increase energy efficiency. To do so, they are using eMonitor energy meters to measure electricity usage

The eMonitor portal which provides a sampling of how energy data will be displayed. 

 in selected homes, schools and public buildings.  Students are able to view and analyze minute-by-minute data at the circuit level.  Starting in February participating communities will compete with each other for the title of “The Most Energy Efficient Community on the Coast”!    They will use the Community Energy Competition Dashboard as a tool to collect, analyze, and display their data.

Energy for ME Community Competition Dashboard.

Throughout the 3-year Energy for ME project, students will develop energy efficiency plans for their school buildings and greater communities. Students at Pemetic Elementary School have already developed the “Reduce Your Use of Energy Abuse Challenge” and more than 50 of their community members are supporting the challenge.  We are on our way! 

The Pemetic Team at the Summer Institute.

STEM cannot be placed in box; it plays a role in everyone’s lives, and must be understood through real world applications.  Students participating in

Students at the Fox Island Wind Turbine.

Energy for ME are asked to find patterns in the data, investigate cause and effect in energy usage, and understand the system dynamics of energy use of a building.  Sound familiar?  Yes!  The Frameworks crosscutting concepts all play a role in implementing the Energy for ME project and understanding data.  Data always tells a story and it is the analysis of that data that helps us investigate and uncover that story.  The Framework’s crosscutting concepts – particularly energy – will emerge over and over as we discuss core ideas in biology, ecology, earth science, and physics.  Science education in Maine is changing for the better with the guidance of the Framework and the innovative STEM programming throughout the state. 

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