Sometimes the only way to make progress is to leave something behind.
How can science and engineering be harnessed to better manage energy use in our society? Students enrolled in the 15-week “Engineering for Sustainable Energy” course offered by the Virtual High School consider that very question.
This lesson plan presents the core learning activities of the course’s team project, which focuses on the engineering, science and social issues behind a sustainable energy society, for adaptation in other classrooms.
Global energy use is projected to increase dramatically over the next few years and will continue to have major impacts on the environment and the world economy.
This is the problem that powers Sustainatopia, a wiki-based group project through which students collaborate to present their vision of how to build a sustainable future for the fictional town of New Meddling and its inhabitants. Students will self-direct the project over a period of eight weeks. With its completion, they will better understand the historical context through which the definitions, concepts, and principles of sustainability and sustainable development have emerged over time.
To begin, introduce students to the seven common themes of sustainability outlined by environmental systems consultant, educator and entrepreneur Andrés R. Edwards in The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift. This primer on the history, evolution and future of the movement toward sustainability argues that most sustainability principles incorporate:
Discuss as a class these themes and how they can be applied to the problem at hand.
Next, challenge students to conduct independent research, participate in hands-on engineering activities and complete a range of math applications to achieve the following learning objectives:
Because this lesson is meant to be student-directed, leave it to them to establish the rules for their collaborative work as they come up with viable solutions to the problems they believe New Meddling residents would face. For example, students might wish to debate and determine the modes of transportation that residents would use, how the city would get its power or what kinds of industry it would promote.
The lesson culminates with a team project that focuses on the engineering design process, engineering solutions for sustainable energy problems, contrasting different energy sources and consequences in the context of sustainable development, and the presentation of design solutions for class review. The project, which is meant to apply research and theory to a real-world situation, must model a sustainable existence for people in the New Meddling community and beyond its borders.
The complexity of the project requires a high level of planning and organization, so divide students into teams of three to five people with varying ability levels. Use a timeline-planning tool, such as Famento’s xtimeline (a free web-based solution that allows users to create and share timelines with pictures and videos), and designate one member of each team as “project manager” to help teams manage their projects and stay on task.
Teams can develop their completed projects in a variety of formats — models, drawings or slide shows, for example — but they must present their ideas in such a way that their classmates can clearly understand how their design solution contributes to New Meddling’s development in a viable way.
At the conclusion of all presentations, students should assess their own work and that of their classmates.
This lesson is appropriate for students in grades nine through 12, as well as for middle school students enrolled in their school’s gifted and talented programs.
This lesson fulfills standards set forth by the U.S. Partnership, a coalition of individuals, organizations and institutions in the United States dedicated to education for sustainable development, and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), an accreditor for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and technology.
The U.S. Partnership’s National Education for Sustainability K–12 Student Learning Standards require students to:
ABET’s National Engineering Standards stipulate that students gain:
Students should be graded on the quality of their participation, their project plan’s content and their final presentation. They should be expected to contribute to class discussions with clear, concise comments that demonstrate higher-order thinking skills and extend meaningful discussion by building on the wiki posts of others.
Students’ final projects, meanwhile, must identify and emphasize the direct relationships between the chosen themes presented by other team members and the concept of sustainable energy in a community. They should be expected to explain the relevance of these connections.