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Business Brings Sustainable Lessons to School

Students learn about energy efficiency with companion curricula that include hands-on projects.

Pitsco’s green projects and products, Lexmark’s paper program, and Lutron Electronics’ Greenovation program are just a few curricular ideas that K12 classrooms are using to help districts save energy and teach students to help save the environment.

Students of James Novotny's science and engineering class at Livingston High School present reports and charts on lighting and bulb use (above) and read a light meter (below) as part of Lutron?s Greenovation program.

Pitsco designs thousands of products, including kits, teacher guides and tools for the classroom to engage learners, and offers a standards-based K12 curriculum that promotes student success; Lexmark develops, manufactures and supplies printing and imaging solutions; and Lutron designs and manufactures lighting control products.

Lutron officials state that the Greenovation project, which combines state-of-the-art classroom lighting with state-correlated energy lessons, can teach a powerful message. The project came about when Lutron installed an energy efficient lighting system in the South Middle School in Arlington Heights, Ill., and then tracked the energy usage, according to Ann Feigl- Johnston, Lutron’s communications project manager. Kim Dyer, a teacher at the school, wanted to know the energy usage so she could discuss sustainable behavior with her students. Greenovation grew from there. Pitsco developed its green products to foster excitement for STE M (science, technology, engineering and math) and sustainable energy. And Lexmark’s sustainability curriculum allows the company to partner with administrators, teachers and students in part to build skills and use science and math to help solve environmental challenges in the real world.

“It’s a lot of fun for kids, and it gets them to think about things they never would have thought about otherwise,” says Jessi Monroe, a science teacher at Monte Cassino School in Tulsa, Okla., about Pitsco’s Der Wiener Roaster, which she uses in her lessons. “It allows them to do hands-on work, which allows them to make more connections as opposed to just reading out of a textbook.”

At the W.E.B. DuBois High School of Environmental Science in Baltimore, students pour a paper and water mixture into dish basins, using screens to separate the pulp. Felt, which is rolled with a pin, soaks up excess water.

While there is no hard data on the extent of green curricula in K12 schools nationwide, there are signs that environmental programs are gaining ground, according to James Elder, director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, which helps advocate for increased federal funding for the environment.

Congress has a bill, “No Child Left Inside,” on the table that creates new funding for teacher training in environmental education. For states to access the funds, they must have in place a statewide environmental literacy plan, which only about 10 states have, Elder says. Some states have started to consider environmental education programs, including Maryland and Oregon, and California launched an environment in education initiative a few years ago. “I can say from my own experience that it’s very clear that environmental education is going through its second renaissance, with the first being in the 1970s,” Elder says.

The Green Hot Dog

Back in Oklahoma, Monroe uses the Der Wiener Roaster, which is a solar hot dog cooker, to help her seventh- and eighth-grade students learn the power of the sun as they cook their turkey hot dogs.

As part of Monroe’s synergistic system laboratory, students place two foil-wrapped hot dogs in the heat-absorbing metal tube, and the parabolic surface gathers the sun’s rays. “I send them outside with oven mitts,” she says, as the hot dogs get boiling hot. “And they realize that the sunnier it is, the faster they cook.”

After the lab, Monroe and the students discuss how they can use solar power to run motor vehicles or other equipment. And they learn about wind energy using fans. The lessons lead to talk of fossil fuels, which Monroe’s students mistakenly thought are not used in their homes. “I want them to see that they are using fossil fuels,” she says. The class then discusses how solar and wind power are better, cleaner sources for future energy.

Shedding Light in Class

In the Technology and Design for Science and Engineering II class at Livingston High School in the Livingston (N.J.) School District, teacher James Novotny says the Greenovation program is a perfect fit. Lutron wanted to partner with the district last June at the same time the district was undergoing some renovation projects and getting LEED-certified. The program starts with installing energy-efficient lighting with a data box that reads energy usage back to the Greenovation Web site. The lighting includes sensors that adjust lighting brightness based on available daylight, ensuring that lights are used only as needed. And teachers and school administrators can adjust the lighting for particular events. The system can cut a building’s lighting energy use by up to 60 percent.

Before Lutron updated the lights, Novotny had his junior and senior students consider how much energy was consumed by the older, less efficient lights. He also had them notice how light was striking each desk in the room and then track how often the room was used. They considered the lumens of the lights and how much electricity was used, then figured out how much it cost per day to light the room. They expanded the research to every room and hallway in the school building.

With the new lights installed the same year, they learned how much less light and electricity were used. The students ended the course by giving a presentation to the board of education showing how the district could save $15,000 a year using such lights and having teachers and administrators turn off lights, or lower their intensity, when they are not needed.


Saving Trees

Lexmark’s sustainability curriculum, called “The Paper Trail,” includes teaching students how to reduce paper consumption and then having them calculate the savings so they can be directed toward new computer equipment and scholarship funds. It also prepares them to understand environmental challenges.

According to Amanda Plakosh-Angeles and Rick Hobbs, authors of “The Paper Trail” curriculum, Lexmark uses four sets of lesson plans that introduce students to the creation of paper, which includes using tree by-products. Then students learn how paper and printers are used in school, how often teachers and secretaries use paper, and how school employees can minimize their own use of paper, including by printing on both sides of the page. The program, which was piloted in Maryland, meets many national and state content standards, Lexmark officials say.

Delores Berry, principal of W.E.B. DuBois High School of Environmental Science in the Baltimore City Public Schools, says that the ninth-grade Science and Sustainability class is using the program because “students are to learn about conservation and sustaining the environment and how to make positive impacts on the environment.”

Using videos and interviews with the staff and teachers, students shared their findings with staff and board members. “The lessons allowed us to dig deeper into conservation and changing behavior,” Berry says. “We had a recycling bin and posters that encouraged recycling, but now we’re beginning to talk about the economical piece ? and reduce the consumption of paper.”

Being kinder to the earth’s environment is catching on across the nation, and our future leaders are taking note.