"Show and Tell - explaining the rain game" by woodleywonderworks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Show ‘N Tell For Renewables — Fun Learning For Kids (& Their Teachers & Parents)

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Show ‘n tell was always fun when we were kids, right? You got to hear first-hand stories about how an object or event was personally meaningful for a classmate or family member. The delight that young people have experienced for generations with show ‘n tell hasn’t changed with this new generation. In fact, it’s become a way for educators to explain the changes that are occurring in our natural world in ways that are instructive, but also solution-driven.

Kids (and their teachers and parents) are craving information about how we can say goodbye to fossil fuels and hello to renewables. Let’s give ’em what they want with show ‘n tell!

From an educational standpoint, the purpose of Show ‘n Tell at first was to help children develop their public speaking skills. There has been a whole bunch of motor learning research over the years on the use and value of demonstrations (show) and verbal instructions (tell) to facilitate learning a new task.

Since its origins, Social Learning Theory reveals that demonstrating a skill or task creates a mental image that learners can identify with as they attempt to reproduce the movement or activity. That mind-mapping is important for today’s young people as the world transitions to renewable energy.

How to Explain Global Warming

NASA resources can help to start us off toward explaining the atmospheric changes that the world is undergoing. We can begin with global warming, which is the long-term heating of Earth’s surface observed since the pre-industrial period that ranged between 1850 and 1900. That’s when manual labor began to be replaced by machinery fueled by new sources of energy. Soon scientists learned how to generate electricity, and the discovery of oil led to the invention of the internal combustion engine.

By the end of the 20th century, the world was completely dependent on and rapidly depleting the planet’s fossil fuels — resources such as coal, natural gas, and oil that are formed from the decomposed remains of prehistoric plants and animals. These fossil fuels contain the energy stored from the sun that took hundreds of thousands of years to accumulate.

Our human activities that burn fossil fuels for energy are trapping heat and elevating greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere of our world is now kinda like the glass roof and walls of a greenhouse which keep in heat, except we’re keeping in too much heat for the world to survive as we’ve known it.

Climate describes the pattern of weather conditions in an entire region for a very long time. Many of the warmest years on record have happened in the past 20 years. In addition to burning fossil fuels, human activities, such as the destruction of forests, the rapid expansion of farming, overbuilding, and industrial activities create extra greenhouse gases. The current warming trend is proceeding at an unprecedented rate. Our climate is changing as a result.

Some changes resulting from human activities have decreased the capacity of the environment to support various species and have substantially reduced ecosystem biodiversity and ecological resilience.

Using Show ‘n Tell as Climate Science Pedagogy

Educators need to discuss the human role in shaping the climate but do so in a deliberate manner, with pacing and framing intentionally designed activities to help learners understand the science and reconcile disparate information they may have heard. It starts with data-driven explanations and moves toward weaving in solutions every step of the way.

Outlining solutions is really important as it prevents feelings of hopelessness and also shows the scientific and technical responses that are needed to curb the worst effects of climate change. For example, a book like Inspiring Stories from People Working in Clean Energy shifts narratives away from oil and gas job loss to a whole new set of careers ahead for today’s youth.

In Maryland, with real-time evidence of climate change plainly visible — cherry blossoms blooming weeks ahead of schedule — environmental activists gathered in front of the State House recently, urging officials to do all they can to promote the use of electric trucks and school buses in the state. “We need and demand clean air to improve the health of our children and the quality of life in our communities,” said Linda Flores, a Spanish-speaking activist from Silver Spring with Chispa Maryland, an organization affiliated with the Maryland League of Conservation Voters that focuses on Latino communities.

The measure drew support from public health advocates, educators, students, labor leaders, and the Maryland Truck Safety Coalition. The advocates brought an electric-power tractor unit for a semi-truck, an electric pick-up truck, and an electric school bus from the Montgomery County Public Schools. Several children were outfitted in cardboard school buses.

Snow Goes, 4-Season Sports Surge

Learners in 4-season climates can relate to snowscapes, so the story of the revitalization of Ascutney ski resort in Vermont should resonate with lots of learners. Ascutney had 1,800 vertical feet of skiing on over 50 trails. Skiers enjoyed a high-speed quad chairlift, 3 triple chairlifts, and a double chairlift. A lack of snowfall was the main factor that made its continued operation impossible. The closure weakened the nearby community of West Windsor, population 1,099, which depended on the ski industry for survival.

No, Ascutney couldn’t depend on cold enough weather any more for natural snow or for temperatures consistently cold enough to create human-made snow. But there were options.

Working with the state of Vermont as well as the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, the town bought the failed ski area in 2015 and decided that local residents themselves would volunteer to make the area much more than a ski area — today it has Ascutney Outdoors and a new general store featuring local products. The town and mountain draw people year round —  endurance runners and mountain bikers in the warm months to skiers in winter who use a rope tow or T-bar or skin their way up the slopes.

Sea areas around the world are now transitioning like Ascutney due to climate change. Four season activities are delighting families and helping ski areas to survive: mini-golf, driving ranges, zip lines, extreme Frisbee, batting cages, music and art festivals, performing arts, car shows, scenic lift rides, hiking, mountain biking, climbing wall, gem panning, kids ropes courses, eco-discovery experiences.

It might seem odd to talk about lack of snow when Californians are giddy over a rare snowfall, but climate change is turning everythin we have known about seasons upside down.

Show ‘n Tell with Renewable Energy Lessons

Renewable power is booming, as innovation brings down costs and starts to deliver on the promise of a clean energy future. US solar and wind generation are breaking records and being integrated into the national electricity grid without compromising reliability.

Eco-Watch suggests starting with defining sustainability and ending with renewable energy. They recommend projects for an immersive adventure in alternative energy like building a mini water wheel, purifying water, constructing a wind turbine, cooking using a campfire, or taking a field trip to a nearby renewable energy plant.

The NREL offers a series of lesson plans (PDF) to help educators of all kinds to impart hands-on, experiential learning about renewables and their place in our future.

What is Energy?

  • Activity 1 Energy Detective
  • Activity 2 Renew-a-Bean

Energy Conversions

  • Activity 3 Energy Conversions
  • Activity 4 Leaf Relay
  • Activity 5 How Can We Generate Electricity?

Renewable Energy: Wind and Water

  • Activity 6 The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
  • Activity 7 Hydropower–Building a “Turbin-ator”

Renewable Energy: Biomass

  • Activity 8 Which Has More Heat?
  • Activity 9 Which Grass Produces More Biomass?

Renewable Energy: Solar Energy

  • Activity 10 Solar Cell Power: Series or Parallel?
  • Activity 11 Batch- Type Solar Collectors: Which is Best?
  • Activity 12 Build a Better Solar Greenhouse
show 'n tell
Graphic by Carolyn Fortuna / CleanTechnica

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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