Take a dash of youthful curiosity, combine it with inspired teachers, and add a free curriculum, and that’s a winning formula for the Be E3 Smart program.
The E’s stand for energy, efficiency, and education, and the program’s goal is to help middle school teachers help their students understand the power of energy. It comes with the teacher’s curriculum from the Ohio Energy Project, a nonprofit based in Worthington, as well as energy efficiency items for students to use at home thanks to sponsorship support from 23 electric cooperatives serving Ohio.
“I can’t say enough about the program and how much it’s helped us to teach, and with materials that are provided — it just makes it so much easier,” says Ellen Lynch, who teaches seventh-grade science and eighth-grade health at Seneca East Local Schools. “What is so wonderful is they provide so many hands-on materials. With each lesson, there’s at least one experiment.”
Lynch, whose Be E3 Smart materials are sponsored by North Central Electric Cooperative in Attica, has put a grand experiment at the center of her energy curriculum: Students are charged with creating Rube Goldberg machines, named after the man whose thousands of cartoons depicted purposefully difficult and elaborate ways of completing simple tasks.
“They have to create devices or a machine, following the scientific method, and it has to have at least five energy transformations,” Lynch says — think getting a marble into a basket, or powering up a computer to play a video. “Using anything from air in a balloon to dominoes falling, they’ve been very, very creative. They’re not allowed to buy anything. They’ve really done a great job with the machines, and they’re really fun to watch.”
So fun that Lynch started recording the students’ machines in action. The videos go on Seneca East’s website each year for everyone to get in on the fun.
Students become the teachers
About 20 minutes farther south in North Central’s service area is Buckeye Central Middle School in New Washington, where Marianne Williamson teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science. A few years ago, six of her Be E3 Smart students became the teachers at the Ohio eTech conference in Columbus.
“We had a booth where students showed the teachers how to teach lessons from the curriculum,” says Williamson, whose Be E3 Smart classroom is also sponsored by North Central Electric. “Our students interacted with professionals, explaining how the Be E3 Smart curriculum worked and demonstrating different experiments.”
And that’s where Be E3 Smart is unique. It shows students the real-world effects of energy production and encourages them and their families to be more conscious of those effects in everyday life.
“There’s the big idea, something we talk about — reducing the amount of energy we use — but we like our conveniences, computers, lights, phones,” Lynch says. “So how can we make very small changes to conserve energy and still live the way we want?”
Learning more than just science
Williamson says it also gives her students the opportunity to gain social and professional skills.
“The Ohio Energy Project and our rural electric cooperatives are providing local school districts with critical-thinking opportunities for our future generations by way of energy education and efficiency,” Williamson says. “Students have become engaged in energy efficiency and conservation by installing useful materials in their own homes — gifts from the cooperatives who genuinely care about their members and the world in which we live.”
For North Central Electric, caring is embedded in its business model — locally owned, locally operated, with a commitment to serving its communities.
“One of the cooperative’s key strategies is to look for opportunities to connect the children of our members to education and other programs that will benefit them,” says Terry Mazzone, North Central’s director of member and community relations. “The Be E3 Smart program does that for us. These dynamic and innovative teachers have even invited our energy services advisors into their classroom to talk about how they can help their families use energy wisely.”
To learn more about the Be E3 Smart program and the Ohio Energy Project, visit www.ohioenergy.org.