KidWind Project and Wind Education in the Classroom: Wind Powering America Lessons Learned
July 1, 2013
Integrating wind energy curricula into the classroom can seem like a daunting task for educators trying to expand the classroom experience. Wind Powering America interviewed Dan Whisler, a 29-year environmental science instructor at Sterling High School in Kansas, and Michael Arquin, director of the KidWind Project, to ask them about lessons learned regarding wind energy education.
Sterling High School has been a Wind for Schools Project host school since 2008, and Whisler championed the installation of the small wind turbine on the school's campus. In August 2012, Whisler attended KidWind's WindSenator training, joining the ranks of the program's 120-plus trained teachers in more than 27 states. Arquin was a middle school teacher in California, whose dream of inspiring more teachers and students to learn about clean energy technology led to him starting the KidWind Project in 2002 in his apartment basement. To date, KidWind has trained more than 7,000 teachers and impacted more than 500,000 students.
Whisler and Arquin shared the following lessons for anyone interested in bringing wind energy education to a school.
Your first step isn't that important; what's important is that you keep moving. There are multiple ways to approach bringing wind energy into the classroom. Educators may wonder about how to begin: perhaps installing a wind turbine at a school, adding wind energy curricula, or participating in a program like the KidWind Project? According to Whisler, the first thing to do is to put yourself out there.
"It's almost like which came first, the chicken or the egg?" he said. "The opportunities are out there, and you just have to work to help make them happen. As you start, you often find a lot of support that maybe you didn't know about until you started. That's what I've found with both the wind turbine project and KidWind. As we've worked to enhance our energy-related studies with environmental science, it's like a snowball that's gained momentum, and it's really been fun to be a part of that."
Funding is always a challenge. Funding is one of the largest concerns regarding how to implement wind energy into the classroom. With limited budgets, schools and educators may be worried about these costs. Whisler believes that starting small can be the answer to overcoming funding issues.
"Start small and then build," he said. "The KidWind curricula is available online, and the classroom activities are there too. I just did a 3-day workshop where one of the teachers attending had used the KidWind activities in his classroom, even though he hadn't been through the training yet. A teacher in his district attended the workshop that I taught in January and went back with one of the turbine kits from the workshop. He said, 'You have to do these in your physical science classes. Your physics students are going to love them.' This teacher actually started learning with the students. The kids had a great time with it, and then his district's superintendent and principal were supportive of him attending the training as well."
According to Whisler, a good resource for teachers seeking funding can be district grant writers.
"One of the first things we did after I visited with the superintendent and talked to a couple of the board members about the turbine project was visit with our grant writer," he said. "We have a very good one in our district, and I visited with her. I've been doing a lot more grant writing and working with our team on that."
Whisler also thinks about fundraising in terms of the small curricula kits.
"My goal is that when a teacher attends the KidWind workshop, we've secured at least some funding to help with the purchase of the KidWind Turbine Kits. It costs about $130 for the advanced kit, and I've been trying to use grant money to pay for half of the cost of the kits. Then the school districts can cover the other half. That way at the end of the workshop, the teachers go home with a kit that they can immediately start using in their classrooms."
"If you're a teacher who is motivated and willing to look around, you can always find resources," Arquin said. "People want to help educators, but you have to give them a reason to want to. Whether it's through money, stuff, or time, everyone wants to help teachers, but you have to give people something concrete to grab on to."
Be willing to learn with your students. Educators may be fearful of trying new approaches and teaching new materials to students without having prior experience with the topic.
"You have to be willing to learn and welcome the challenges," Whisler said. "I'm not an electrical engineer. I've had a lot to learn as part of the process, but I think that's important for students to see. When we graduate from high school or college, we don't know everything. It's important to be lifelong learners. That's what I've tried to model through the activities. I'm going to get in there and learn and do science."
It's not just about hyping wind energy. With growing concerns about climate change and increasing energy demands, it is currently more important than ever to understand the role that renewables will play in today's energy sector as well as in the future.
"We've rewritten the first three or four lessons to make the connections of why we should care about wind in the scope of global climate change," Arquin said. "What's the bigger point? A lot of our work now is to make sure the curriculum is framed within that lens."
Hands-on learning is valuable for teachers. Whisler tries to provide teachers attending the workshops with hands-on time where they can actually do the activities.
"They're building blades, they're running tests, they're hooking the turbines up in the wind tunnel," he said. "I don't want to just talk about the activities. I want to do them, and that way at the end, the teachers have the turbines and they can go back to the classrooms and do these activities with their own students."
Interested in applying to become a WindSenator?
According to Arquin, "We want teachers with 5 to 10 years experience and a track record of raising money for their classroom and training other teachers and influencing their peers. They have to have a willingness to really get into it and be willing to make some mistakes."