Elizabeth Forward Middle School Taps Carnegie Mellon U for Interactive Energy Labs

Elizabeth Forward Middle School has teamed with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and a private partner to develop novel interactive tools to teach students about energy.

The middle school initially partnered with Chevron, which provided a two-year grant to fund energy education projects at the university's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC).

"The first of four ETC student teams began brainstorming about how to engage students," according to a CMU news release. "Using Chevron's initial proposal of a Disney-like interactive energy space, the students worked on defining the room and setting the tone for future semesters. To do that, they started by interviewing their clients — the students."

"We found that they actually knew a lot about energy, but they knew of it more on a small scale," said Casey Ging, an ETC student and member of one of the four initial teams, dubbed infinitE, in a prepared statement. "We decided to start on the biggest possible scale for our portion of the Energy Lab, the cosmic scale. We wanted to communicate the idea that the sun's energy is directly linked to all of our energy sources."

Ging and his team decided to create an interactive model of the sun, eventually creating a 48-inch touchscreen dome featuring planetarium projections. InfinitE also created a game that asked students to place solar panels in an effort to most efficiently power a town.

"We noticed a group of four to five students actively working together and strategizing how to do better in our game," Ging said in a news release. "We had created something that made kids want to work together to find a way to power a planet using only solar energy. We were pretty proud of that message."

Lisa Elkin, another ETC student on the infinitE team, stayed with the project into the next semester, this time with group Vis Viva, and helped to develop a second game that allows students to explore the Earth's crust using microphones and their own voices in an effort to better understand how fossil fuels are found and extracted.

"Kids get excited with the level of engagement," said Todd Keruskin, assistant superintendent at Elizabeth Forward Middle School, in a prepared statement. "I would think digging through the earth and sending sound waves into the earth is a heck of a lot better way to teach what we're teaching," 

Currently, a third team, Flint, is developing tools to help students understand issues related to wind-generated energy.

Keruskin is also working to recreate pieces of the energy labs at Bethlehem-Center School District and Shirley Saldamarco, a CMU faculty advisor for the projects, said she hopes the labs can be expanded to other schools beyond that.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].