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Project ReCharge transforms students into energy detectives through STEM

University of Nevada, Reno, Washoe County School District and Envirolution collaboration brings cutting-edge energy education and energy monitoring to schools


4/13/2015 | By: Nicole Shearer  |

Empowering students to make energy-saving recommendations for their schools is the aim of Project ReCharge, a new collaborative program launching this spring. In conjunction with the University of Nevada, Reno's Raggio Research Center for STEM Education, the Washoe County School District and Envirolution, a local sustainable and educational nonprofit, students and teachers at O'Brien Middle School and Reed High School will conduct energy audits of their school and provide cost-saving recommendations to Washoe County School District facility managers and administrators.

Project ReCharge is designed to provide students with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions about energy usage and conservation in their own lives. To do this, research-based energy efficiency curriculum will be added to eighth grade mathematics and science classes as well as high school environmental science and Career and Technical Education classes. Professional development workshops will also support integration of energy and technology into teachers' core curriculum and create authentic STEM experiences for their students.

"This is a collaboration that will bring cutting-edge energy education and energy monitoring to schools and will engage students to design and implement a plan that will save their schools 10 percent of their energy consumption," David Crowther, executive director of the Raggio Research Center for STEM Education in the University's College of Education, said. "Project ReCharge will help prepare students for jobs in the growing green economy."  

The plan behind Project ReCharge is to add additional schools each year with the goal of reaching more than 30 teachers and 3,000 students at the middle school and high school level in just three years. Helping realize the goal is a $1.2 million energy efficiency grant from the National Science Foundation (Grant DRL-1433597). The grant was awarded to the Raggio Research Center for STEM Education, along with sub-recipient Envirolution.  

Crowther and Jacque Ewing Taylor, associate director of the Raggio Research Center for STEM Education, spearheaded the University's involvement with the project and were instrumental in successful funding of the grant. As grant overseer and evaluator, the University's College of Education is responsible for aligning Project ReCharge curriculum to the Next Generation Science Standards and leading professional development classes to train teachers in its implementation into the classrooms.  

Envirolution, as the grant sub-recipient, is responsible for helping develop curriculum content, managing involvement of energy monitoring technology and providing classroom assistance to teachers. Envirolution is partnering with Load IQ, a Reno-based business specializing in energy management, to bring real time data of school energy usage into the hands of students. O'Brien Middle School previously had the energy-monitoring technology Load IQ installed in its facilities, and continues to be committed to collecting useful energy management data. In the future, the school district will invite the public for tours and demonstrations of Project ReCharge at work in these schools.  

"Hands-on lessons will empower students to be energy detectives, discovering how building systems and appliances consume energy in their schools," Crowther said.  

Project ReCharge's approach goes beyond traditional energy efficiency curriculum by engaging electrical disaggregation technology from Load IQ. Student groups use tablet computers to interact with real-time data, identifying and tracking major electrical loads in their school buildings. Students and teachers will then work with Envirolution's staff, building control services engineers and school district facility managers to analyze the data and detail a list of facility and behavioral conservation opportunities.  

The work of these students and teachers has the potential to make a tremendous positive impact on school buildings. Results will be disseminated to additional school districts via multiple pathways that include local and regional workshops; national outreach through educational, efficiency, and green schools conferences such as the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy and Green Schools National Conference; and professional publications.  

"This project is really exciting for the Washoe County School District," Kindra Fox, Washoe County School District director of curriculum and instruction, said. "In addition to empowering students with the knowledge and skills that enable them to provide recommendations for energy savings in our buildings, our students are learning real world skills that can be applied to many careers and during their lifetimes as environmentally aware adults."

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