Solar Powered Learning

Photo from Rona

My friends and I had one of those ideas; the kind that starts at lunch or coffee and leads to something strange. Heather Ragot and Craig Campbell, two teachers at SJR who I see as master teachers, and myself are trying to create an experience for our Grade 9 students.

Let me step back. A few months ago I acquired a grant to place solar panels on top of my classroom. It was one of those ideas inspired by a ski, a late night snack, or a restroom break: What if? At the time, I didn’t really know anything about solar energy and the viability of it in a place like Manitoba where energy is so cheap because of the abundance of hydro electricity. The first thing I did was consult my good friend Mike Phelan, who is the owner of a business called Rogue Machines – it’s an engineering and design firm. I have known Mike since I was 15 and trust his judgement in this area. My good friend Dave Hill, my former water polo coach who now lives off the grid in Ontario, also chimed in. Here’s the conversation on Facebook:

 So this was of great help and I am grateful for having friends like Mike and Dave – a testament to the close community that is Winnipeg. In any event, I passed on the project to one of my Grade 12 students who was interested in doing some research for his Praxis Project in Global Issues. But my wheels continued to spin. I started to think of the big questions related to alternative energy and our addiction to energy itself. I heard this great broadcast on the CBC from Cape Breton Island about a couple living off the gird, and it inspired me. What if we could teach off the grid?

I knew I couldn’t do this alone, so I started to bug Craig and Heather – the two master teachers at SJR who I respect dearly. Craig teaches Science, mostly Physics, and Heather teaches English Language Arts. They are two of the most committed teachers I have ever met. Heather and I had already been collaborating since September as we both teach the same group of kids for English and Social Studies. When I approached her about doing a holistic study of energy, we immediately knew that Craig had to be involved, given his energy and the fact that he teaches the same group of kids.

From there, the ideas began to flow. In January, Craig will start teaching the kids about the Science behind solar energy and electricity itself. These students will help my Grade 12 student actually install the panels and batteries and navigate the logistics.

Heather is going to start reading Lord of the Flies with the students and have them start to investigate our relationship with the biosphere and all systems on earth. She will then take the students through the process of writing a research paper in order for the students to start looking at alternative energy, energy policy, and current debates. The students will gain research skills, an understanding of APA formatting, and a thorough knowledge of issues related to energy production and consumption.

From my end, I will start investigating democracy in Canada with the students. The end goal will be a mock parliament whereby students from different political parties attempt to create a national energy policy. I am super excited about this.

Craig Campbell 

Our hope from this project is that students will gain an ecological literacy through a systems thinking and multidisciplinary approach. My hypothesis is that the students will develop a deeper understanding of the science, an appreciation of the political realities when developing policy, an understanding of the need for civil disobedience (Idle No More), and gain some tremendous skills. From my end, I get to learn, plan, assess, and hang out with some pretty cool colleagues.

Please let us know, via the comment thread, about things you have done that might help us or similar projects that you have done. We would love to learn (rip you off) from you and hear your stories.

To be continued…