Teachers receive powerful lesson on energy sources


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Twenty-four teachers from across the state of Iowa learned about energy sources and got hands-on time to play with items that could help enhance the classroom learning experience.

Anne Marie Amacher
From right, Roni Opar, Deb McAfoos, Rolonda Cabel, Meredith Dreasler and Jeff Monteith play with solar-panel bugs and butterflies during an environmental issues workshop at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport June 18.

Environmental Issues Instruction (eii) has been around since 1987 and offered in different locations each year. This year, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School hosted the event June 16-18.
Julie Delaney, St. Paul’s principal and the associate director of eii, said 12 members of her staff participated in the event which is open to K-12 teachers representing Catholic, private and public schools and homeschooling groups.

Barbara Ehlers, assistant professor of education at Upper Iowa University and eii director, said the curriculum and activities for the three-day event focused on energy systems. The teachers learn about a subject, work in groups to do research and engage in hands-on activities to reinforce learning. “They can take what they learned into the classroom and modify it for what level they teach. This is not lecture- style education.”


Delaney said the four-level program offers a lot of exploration. First, participants explore both sides of an environmental issue. Second, they explore ecology — teaching through science. Third, they engage in analysis, using issues/examples close to home. Fourth, they look at responsible environmental action — exploring ways to educate people and actions to take.

At St. Paul, Delaney said students get involved in a project every year following her attendance at the conference. After students learn about a topic, they come up with ideas to make a difference in the world. In past years, they created a prairie grass area in front of the school and a school recycling program.

The teachers at this year’s event presented their research June 17 on different forms of energy. Hydroelectricity, nuclear power, geothermal, thermal, coal, natural gas and wind power were among the topics presented. On June 18 the teachers experimented with different products to demonstrate the different kinds of energy. The University of Northern Iowa provided many of the items used for the event at no cost.

Some of the hands-on activities involved solar panels on cars and on fake bugs, small-scale wind turbines, solar ovens, mini fuel cell cars and dismantling of various fuel cells.

St. Paul’s kindergarten and first-grade teaching team — Roni Opar, Deb McAfoos, Rolonda Cabel and Meredith Dreasler — got excited about the solar-panel bugs, spiders and butterflies. It is great to find examples of solar energy that they could show to their students, the teachers said.
The June 18 release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment was great timing for the teachers’ program, Cabel said. She thinks that teachers can weave what they learned in class with some of the aspects of the pope’s message about saving the earth.

Jeff Monteith, a teacher with the New Hampton Community School District and member of the eii team, gave the teachers an idea to try with their students and solar items.

He said, “It’s about light, not heat.” So he suggested taking the bugs outside when it is hot and sunny, then again when it’s cold and sunny – showing them that it’s the sun that makes the difference, not the heat of the day.

St. Paul fifth-grade teacher Brooke Carton enjoyed the event and loved the hands-on activities. She learned that solar panels need direct light to complete the circuit. Sun behind the panel or a partially-blocked panel can result in the panel not working.

Jill Watson, a K-12 home school teacher in Bloomfield, said she liked the program because she learned about more sources of energy. “There were fun, hands-on activities that we can put into our classes. The kids will be enthusiastic to do some of these activities. They are very practical ideas.”

The theme for the eii event changes each year. Some past topics have included tropical rain forests, polar issues, feeding the world, urban wetlands, Iowa birds, prairies and native communities, and preserving and protecting water resources.

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