The continuous rise in energy costs has resulted in more awareness of energy efficiency. This is especially true for Hawaii residents who rank No. 1 in the country for electric energy costs.
The Hawaii State Department of Education (DOE) is not only seeking to bring down electricity costs for its facilities, but also incorporating energy efficient lessons in the classroom that align to the Hawaii Common Core.
Ka Hei, the DOE’s five-year energy and sustainability program, is aimed at integrating energy technology with meaningful learning experiences. Ka Hei is a partnership with Opterra Energy Services, which takes a “whole services approach” to energy solutions.
As the Opterra and DOE facility staff focus on the energy efficient technologies such as photovoltaic (PV) and LED lighting. Opterra is also working with DOE curriculum staff in building upon on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities.
“Science teachers are always looking for (professional development) opportunities and things to incorporate in the classroom,” said DOE Education Specialist for Science and STEM Lauren Kaupp. “Energy is such a relevant topic right now I think it brings relevance to the concepts of sustainability and science.”
The Ka Hei education program is also organized around themes to prepare students to be community stewards. Ka Hei activities will provide activities that nurture the ongoing development of interpersonal skills to support students on their paths to college and careers.
“They can easily make the connections about renewable
energies because of the hands on experiences."
- Teacher Edene Nagai-Hadap
“For students it’s really important to make personal connections. For teachers it looks at information about their own school’s data versus another more generic set of data, it gives them the tools to make the connections for the student,” Kaupp said.
To that end, Ka Hei is providing professional development and training for classroom teachers. The sessions are arranged to enhance teachers’ familiarity with energy concepts and model best practices for inquiry-based education.
“Teachers will have access to a suite of resources designed to support grade and content-specific standards that will enhance curriculum and learning,” said Dawn Johnson, Opterra’s National Education Manager.
Since December, teachers in Phase I Ka Hei schools have undergone professional development sessions. Now they are taking what they have learned into their classes and applying it to their lessons.
“The instructor's manual and the use of the classroom kits have allowed me to offer my students more hands on projects, which they love,” said teacher Edene Nagai-Hadap of Wilson Elementary School. “They can easily make the connections about renewable energies because of the hands on experiences. This increases their engagement as they are problem-solving and as they build on their critical thinking skills.”
“...critical thinking is huge for the new curriculum that we're developing… It was during the (energy audit) activity that the kids really became mindful of (energy consumption)," Maggie Ballard of Kaimuki Middle School said.
So far, teachers in grades 5-9 have trained to incorporate solar and energy efficiency kits and living laboratories in their schools. The project will be expanding to include grades K-12.
At the schools, more of the living laboratories will give students and teachers access to the school’s own PV or other energy generating data through dashboards that give real-time information and historic information. Students can compare what energy generation looks like at different times of the year or different weather conditions around their campus.
As Ka Hei expands, it will offer more teachers opportunities to roll these tools and curriculum into their schools. The goal is to provide the teachers with the training and tools to empower their students.
“I think the bigger theme of sustainability is the growing issue, while not brand new, it’s holistic, it’s tied in to overall initiatives and even the facilities side of the project,” Kaupp said.