Cutting-Edge STEM Trends
Want to get your students excited about what’s happening in STEM, right now? Try one of these activities! Each one is built to get students engaged and to get discussion and thinking started. At the same time, they are flexible enough for you to adapt to the unique needs of your students.
What do you wonder about solar panels when you see them on neighborhood rooftops or in fields? How much electricity do they generate? Are they worth the expense of installing? How do solar panels contribute to the amount of energy we have available? Explore these questions with your students using mini solar panels.
You’ll need small solar panels and voltmeters (or multimeters) with probes to connect to the solar panels and measure the output. Begin by asking students what they know about solar panels, how they work, and what they are intended to do. Collect examples of where students notice them, and what uses they’ve seen. (For example, students might have solar powered lights in their gardens or on pathways near their homes). Discuss the optimum conditions for solar panel use and their benefits and limitations. Have students hypothesize about why or why not investments in solar panels make sense for electricity generation in your community.
Once students have hypothesized, have students test the output of their mini solar panels in a variety of conditions (ones that are typical to your area). Have them record and share data, and use the data collected to evaluate their hypotheses related to community solar investment — in what instances would investment make sense (for a home, rather than a business, for example)? In what instances would investment in solar be less effective? How does the data collected support (or refute) their hypothesis? Consider having students create presentations of their recommendations to share with the school, or even members of the community.
Buying a car!
Imagine you are in the market for a new car, but you aren’t sure a traditional gas-powered vehicle is the right choice for you. Ask students to help you research your options — from gas-powered or fully electric, to hybrid or alternate-fuel powered. Together, make a list of buying considerations, from how the car will be used and how often to price and fuel capacity. Break students into teams to become the “expert” on one type of car. Have each team research the benefits, limitations, cost, and other factors that must be considered when making a purchase.
Once students have their research completed, re-organize the groups so that each group has an expert in each type of car. Have each expert “sell” their car to the group and work to convince the others that their option is the best for your situation. Ask each group to decide on one type of car and share with the class what their group would buy and why.
Using energy wisely
As technology evolves, our homes are getting smarter and more energy efficient. Still, many homes (and schools) have room for improvement when it comes to using energy more efficiently.
Ask students to list where and how energy is “lost” in our schools and homes. Once students have an idea about energy loss, ask them to think about ways to minimize these losses while also being more efficient with our overall energy use. Encourage students to research recommendations for making buildings efficient and using energy wisely. This might include the use of innovations like smart thermostats or smart meters.
Once students have done their research, have them compare what they know with how energy is being used (or lost!) around their homes and school. Ask them to seek out real opportunities to decrease energy loss while also improving overall energy use. Have students (individually, in pairs, or in small groups) create a set of recommendations. Students might categorize their recommendations by how easy or difficult they would be to implement.
After students have created clear recommendations, ask them to share their ideas with family, other students, teachers, and administrators. Have them suggest specific actions that those individuals can take to use energy more wisely. Finish the activity with students choosing one recommendation from their list that they can implement themselves to put into action, and have students report back to the class in a few weeks on the results of their change.
A hot area of discussion in many parts of the country relates to rebuilding infrastructure, including a wide variety of types of bridges. Talk with your students about the bridges in your area and why they were built (over a valley, a waterway, or even a highway), Find images of those bridges, and others, that you can use to discuss how bridges are structured together.
Work together to build a list of bridge characteristics and types (arches, suspension, beam, etc.) and then choose (or allow small groups to choose) a bridge in your area to imagine they are being tasked with redesigning. What are the benefits and limitations of the current bridge? What needs does the community have now that change how the bridge is used from when it was first built? How could the bridge be redesigned to be stronger, safer, and longer lasting? Encourage students to research as needed. You may even consider reaching out to the local historical society — they often have great information related to area bridges.
Once students have researched and drawn conclusions, ask them to draw and then construct a scale model of their bridge (for example, using plastic drinking straws, tape, and string). Once the models are built, challenge students’ designs with a strength test. How many pennies in a cup can the bridge hold? After testing, encourage students to refine designs and models based on the results of the tests.
Get Into Energy / Get Into STEM is a ground-breaking program designed to build awareness among students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, and others about the value of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and the excellent career opportunities available in the energy industry.
Get Into Energy / Get Into STEM is managed by the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD), a non-profit consortium of electric, natural gas, and nuclear utilities and their associations.