The following ideas are shorter adaptable classroom activities that encourage students to be active citizens.
1. Explore the Role of Government in the U.S. Energy Economy
In the story on wind power in the 12/13/02 NOW with BILL MOYERS broadcast, Michael Noble, Executive Director of Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy, says he wants the U.S. government to move away from fossil fuels and mandate that 20% of America's electricity will come from renewable energy sources, like wind, in the next 20 years. (Note: A free transcript of this report is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from http://shop.pbs.org). Ask students what role the U.S. government should play in the energy economy. Should private industries be given incentives to place more emphasis on the research and deployment of renewable energy sources, such as wind and waterpower? Begin to explore such issues by showing the approximately 8-minute story on wind power and ask students to take notes on the pros and cons of using renewable energy sources like the wind. (Note: The NOW Web site also summarizes the benefits and drawbacks to wind power.) Talk about the strengths and weaknesses of wind power and ask students if they agree or disagree with Mr. Noble's position and why. (You may also wish to include in the discussion NOW's comparison of energy costs for wind power and other energy sources, as well as THE NEWSHOUR with JIM LEHRER'S report on government initiatives in the wind power industry.) Have students synthesize what they've studied in a letter to the editor expressing their viewpoint on the direction U.S. energy policy should take.
2. Determine the Areas of Greatest Potential for Wind Power
The 12/13/02 NOW with Bill Moyers broadcast features a report about the use of wind power in the U.S. (Note: A free transcript of this report is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from http://shop.pbs.org). During the report, a number of interviewees discuss the benefits of farming the wind for electric energy. Several factors determine whether a particular area is suitable or not for wind farming. Have students brainstorm a list of these factors and color code a map of the U.S. illustrating both positive (i.e. wind conditions, land costs, etc.) and negative factors (i.e. population density, environmental issues, etc.) for farming the wind. (Note: The NOW Web site features a U.S. Wind Power Map illustrating typical wind conditions around the country.) From their color-coded maps, students can create a list of the 5 best areas in the country for farming wind power. Students should then find out what wind power activities are happening in these promising areas and contact regional wind power offices to explore volunteer opportunities. The U.S. Department of Energy provides information on regional wind activities and contacts.
3. Conserve Electricity at School
Share with students NOW's cost comparison of wind energy v. other energy sources. Then, talk about how the electricity in your area is generated. Ask the students how much they think their school spends on electricity each month. If possible, provide students with actual values of electrical consumption and costs. Have students brainstorm methods of conserving electricity at school and estimate possible savings. Students could create energy awareness posters for display around the school. If the school already has an Energy Awareness or Conservation Club, encourage students to join and bring their electricity savings ideas with them. If no club exists, encourage students to start one or contact administrators with their ideas.
4. Develop Energy Policy Alternatives
Energy resources, delivery and consumption are important issues considered by U.S. leaders when making many domestic and international policy decisions. Have students brainstorm a list of domestic issues that are affected by energy concerns. For example, beyond the price at the gas pump, how does the cost of gasoline affect people? Next, ask students to brainstorm international issues in which energy is a concern.
After a list is generated, select one or two energy issues for further investigation. Divide students into two (or more) groups, each responsible with formulating a way of addressing the issue and predicting the consequences of their strategy. In the cost of gasoline example, one group of students might come to the conclusion that if the cost of a gallon of gasoline is too high, the government could step in and set a price limit or limit the tax on each gallon of gas. This action was taken in Illinois several years ago when the cost of gas reached $2.00 per gallon. Doing so controlled the price of gasoline but impacted the amount of tax dollars collected by the state, thereby affecting state benefits and services.
Have a representative from each group summarize the group's energy policy decision and related consequences. Allow time for other groups to ask questions and evaluate the policy decisions. Conclude the activity by having students write letters to appropriate political leaders sharing their views and recommendations about the energy issue they've studied.
About the Author
Kevin Murphy is currently a physics and astronomy teacher at Lyons Township High School in the Chicago suburb of LaGrange. Since beginning his career as a classroom teacher in 1986, Kevin has taught math and science in grades 7 through 12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. Kevin has written for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and his class has been featured in Astronomy Magazine. He was a 1995 Illinois Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching and was selected as Illinois Teacher of the Year 2000.