The Way of the Future: STEAM-Based Learning & Renewable Energy Projects

Evolution is everything in education. As our world continues to change, particularly the use of technology, so too should the way we teach students about the world. Education is important for many reasons, including understanding what the real issues are in regards to sustainability.

There’s a lot of noise online — we’re constantly bombarded with fake news and unsubstantiated claims. It’s important to understand how to separate the myths from reality, such as when it comes to myths surrounding recycling or water conservation.

The way we do that is through education. Today, we’ll delve into how you can best approach incorporating renewable energy projects and STEAM-based learning to effectively teach younger generations about key environmental issues.

What Is STEAM-Based Learning?

Let’s first look at what STEM is. STEM refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These four disciplines are grouped together for obvious reasons. But what happens when we toss art, along with the humanities, into the mix? Well, then you get STEAM, and the A is for “art.”

A lot of smart people have opinions on the subject of how teachers can become agents of change through education technology and STEAM ― which you’ll discover in these three TED Talks. However, that doesn’t change the fact that art seems like an unusual fit with those other subjects. It looks a lot like the Sesame Street game of “one of these things is not like the other.”

STEM vs. STEAM is a great theoretical debate, but there’s no denying that the the addition of art into STEM opens the door for many students and makes related subjects more accessible. It creates a more inclusive learning environment and helps bridge the tech gap for students who otherwise wouldn’t make that leap.

Students who are more right-brained and humanities-centric tend to interpret information differently than STEM students. Adding this element to STEM can only be beneficial, as outside-the-box thinking has led to the creation of some amazing companies.

“STEAM”-Powered Renewable Energy Projects

In “Arts, the Environment, & Sustainability,” Robert L. Lynch writes, “The arts are valuable. Artists are essential. Arts education is critical to keeping America creative and competitive in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.” It’s important to remember the context of that statement: art as it applies to the environment and sustainability. It makes the case for the integration of art as a means for advancing the renewable energy cause.

But how can we put those thoughts into action? Here are some real-world examples of K-12 renewable energy projects that leverage the full potential of STEAM to shine a light on critical issues involving sustainability:

Discovering How Renewable Energy Is Used

One approach to teaching students the extent and impact of energy use is giving them the opportunity to explore a virtual representation of their school. In an article in Wired, students at Discovery Elementary in Arlington, VA were tasked with exploring a 3D virtual model of their school. Discovery Elementary is a net-zero school that relies on many forms of alternative energy and systems. By swiping and pinching the model to view each room in detail, they were able to learn about how much energy each fixture, appliance, and device used, as well as details about energy-saving features used at the facility.

Beyond this exploratory activity, the potential applications of this data are vast. Projects could include doing further research on particular eco-friendly features or sources of renewable energy. They could even use design features found at the school to design their own “green dream homes,” potentially creating paintings, models, or virtual representations of their own design.

Siting and Permitting a Wind Farm

Equal parts role play and research, this activity, created by the National Energy Education Development Project, challenges learners to debate the benefits and costs of adding a wind farm to the community. They must adopt one of many roles: a member of the county commission, a developer, an investor, a site planner, a farmer, a consumer, or an environmentalist.

Each of these roles would provide unique insight. For example, county commission members must analyze the impact a wind farm would have on the local job market, taxes, and revenue. How would a wind farm affect local services, politics, and economics? In order to attract investors and earn community approval, developers must create a plan that details the advantages of creating a wind farm in their community. How will the overall community benefit? Environmentalists and site planners must compare wind power with other options, learning how wind power affects the local environment. Does wind power make sense for their community?

By having students analyze the subject from such a diverse range of perspectives, the project will necessarily be an interdisciplinary project, encompassing many subjects. Should students want to delve further into this subject later in their academic careers, this comprehensive approach mirrors the standards used in renewable energy specialization bachelor’s degrees, such as the program offered by DeVry University.

At the conclusion of this project, students will practice their social skills by presenting and debating the facts. Ultimately, the class will participate in a vote: Will they pursue wind energy as a community? This is an excellent activity to teach the benefits, challenges, and struggles of implementing renewable energy.

Land Art Generators

There’s no doubt that climate change is an intimidating subject to broach. Art, however, can discuss such issues in a way that is inviting and imaginative. As such, land art generators are an extremely effective way of sparking discussion while making a positive difference. Located at the intersection of sustainable energy and art, art generators are works of public art that capture energy from nature and convert it into electricity.

This concept can make for amazing learning opportunities in K-12 schools. Having students design such a work allows them to flex their creative muscles, taking critical issues and conveying them through creative expression. Further, the project will require practical knowledge of the components needed to generate renewable energy. This is an activity that can not only engage students, but it can start a real-world conversation in the local community about the need for renewable energy.

These examples make it clear that art is here to stay in the science, technology, and mathematics disciplines. Move over STEM; STEAM is gaining steam.

Have you had any experiences using the arts to teach students about renewable energy? Do you have any unique lesson plan ideas you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

About The Author

Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, education, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, through her portfolio or through LinkedIn




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