Wikis. Infrared thermography. Home energy assessments. Longfellow 3rd graders and Brooks 6th graders are using these tools in a collaborative Global Village project to explore energy efficiency and how it relates to caring for our earth. Ms. Flowers’ 3rd graders and Ms. Frick’s 6th graders first met in person in early January to kick off their project, DoSomething.
In order to communicate with each other remotely, analyze their data, and post their observations and recommendations to the public, the students and staff created a wiki–a collaborative website in which contributors share, update, and comment on information about a given topic. This wiki is open for the public to see but only students can comment and add to the wiki.(See http://dosomethingcollaboration.wikispaces.com)
Ms. Frick has been working for several months with Elise Jury–a D97 technology leader–to teach her Brooks 6th graders how to use a wiki. They first created a plants- and-poetry wiki so that kids in all of Ms. Frick’s classes could collaborate and develop their wiki skills. This was in preparation for a unit on catastrophic events in which they hope to communicate with students in California, Florida, and Louisiana.
“Then I came up with the idea to practice these skills with a teacher friend of mine, Sandra Flowers, who is in the district but in a different building, as the next step to practice for collaborating across the country,” Ms. Frick explained.
In the meantime, Ms. Frick received a call from Energy Men, a Chicago-based company, looking for a school partnership. Mr. Grafft said he is interested in helping students “relate in a global sense to something that is very close to them, for example, between global warming and wasted energy in people’s homes.” Thus, another Global Village project was born.
Mr. Grafft explained that Energy Men provides “a physical for your home.” Their consultants collect data on overall efficiency, run diagnostics, and then suggest ways to address any energy issues on a home or building. He noted that most people “want help with comfort and that is closely linked to efficiency and cost savings.”
“To begin with, this was not going to be a public wiki, but we thought it needed to be to bring these ideas to the world,” explained Susan Oxnevad, also a D97 technology teacher leader. Because of the subject matter and the technology, she added, “this project is constantly evolving.”
Ms. Frick agreed. “Goals change daily with this project and it can get frustrating. Therefore, one of the learning experiences from this is to be flexible and let things go if they don’t work out!”
During the kick-off meeting at Longfellow, Mr. Grafft walked the students through the Home Energy Performance Data Collection–their essential document for the project. He spoke with students about important energy facts. For instance, he explained that “fifty percent of electricity generated at the power plant is lost between the plant and your home.” He also explained some of the choices and alternatives people have when heating and cooling their homes, such as using a tankless water heater to heat the hot water only when you need it.
Sixth-grader Olivia F. liked listening to Mr. Grafft’s presentation, such as when he explained “how they sucked all the air out of a house to see where the cold was coming through.”
Twenty-four pairs of students–one 3rd grader and one 6th grader–will communicate with each other via the wiki. Each student will complete the data sheet at home and then will input the information on a website called energysavvy.com. This site will generate a score for the home’s energy efficiency. The students will in turn take this information and post the data they collected, brainstorm ways to address any energy issues, and discuss the data and ideas with their counterparts–all online. The two groups will only meet in person two times over the course of the project.
Ms. Flowers connected the merits of this project to the larger goals of the curriculum. She explained that in language arts she is teaching them how to respond to literature. “So they read something, they think about it, and they respond to it. We do this when we read a story and when we study something in science, and now we are doing it with this.”
After listening to the Energy Men presentation, Natalie S., a 6th grader, said she had “already learned a lot about electricity–where it comes from and how it’s used” even before getting into the assessment of her own house. Tyler H., another 6th grader, said “We learned about a camera that takes pictures of heat and energy.” Yes, Mr. Grafft had with him an infrared thermography camera, and he took photos of the kids so they could see how much heat their bodies give off. Such a camera is used in the field to show hot and cold spots in a building.
Third-grader Charlotte S. likes the project so far “because we get to learn a lot about things we don’t know.”
Abby Z. said, “I really enjoyed going to Longfellow to meet our buddies.” Olivia F. also liked the fact that she was going to be able to work with these younger kids.
Abby did note the project can be challenging for her time-wise. “Sometimes it’s hard to get on the Internet to get the work done.” Olivia admitted that entering the data on the computer was not her favorite task, but in terms of communicating on the wiki, “I was excited to try it.”
According to Ms. Frick, the best aspects of the project long-term are “learning to collaborate online in creative ways and to expand the classroom to share ideas with other students and other interested parties anywhere in the world.”
As part of the project, the students will also travel at the end of January to the Chicago Center for Green Technology, so they can further learn about local possibilities for energy efficiency and new ways to take care of our environment.