November 11, 2008


Future teachers learn energy lesson

Workshop demonstrates teaching methods to spark understanding


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer    
Retired McGraw science teacher John Pinto instructs a class of SUNY Cortland education majors how to teach the science of energy conservation.

Staff Reporter

John Pinto spread a blanket on a classroom floor and made folds to represent mountains and valleys.
Then he sprinkled beads among the folds: black for coal, blue for oil, white for natural gas, red for uranium. The retired McGraw teacher tossed tinier beads among them, representing solar energy.
Several SUNY Cortland students knelt and tried to grab the beads according to color, representing Americans using energy. With all of the beads gone, Pinto tossed some more “solar” beads down.
Solar energy is renewable. Everything else in his exercise was used up for good.
“I’m actually supposed to tape some beads down and hide some,” he told the students. “Because in real life, some resources are tough to get at. But it slows down the activity too much.”
Pinto spent Monday showing 28 students in education professor Beth Klein’s two courses, Education Technology and Elementary Science Methods, how to teach children about energy conservation.
The workshop at Van Hoesen Hall was part of the Energy Smart Students Program, sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which funds research into energy supply and efficiency as well as energy-related environmental issues.
Pinto is a consultant in educating elementary teachers about energy. Usually he works with teachers, but Klein thought the future elementary teachers in her classes could benefit and asked him to do the workshop.
The students started the day by reviewing kinds of energy and its uses, especially in New York state compared to the rest of the nation.
They saw that New Yorkers rely more overall on natural gas (27 percent), petroleum (39 percent) and hydro energy (7 percent), and less on coal, than the nation as a whole. NYSERDA says only 7 percent of New Yorkers rely on coal, compared to 25 percent nationally.
After lunch, Pinto showed students how to use NYSERDA materials to review ways to show children the nature of energy, how it is transformed and why some kinds cannot be replaced. Pinto guided the students through demonstrations for elementary children in how to remove hydrogen from water and compare incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent.
“This is a wonderful curriculum developed for teachers, by teachers,” Pinto said. “We have to change the mindset about using energy, and this is the way we do it.”
To remove hydrogen from water, students filled a glass with water, dissolved baking soda in it, then placed a pencil’s pointed end and copper wire attached to a battery into the water. Water bubbled around the pencil’s lead as the electrical energy caused hydrogen to separate from oxygen.
Another activity used chocolate chip cookies to illustrate how mining coal devastates the earth. Each student had to pretend a cookie was a state laden with coal (the chocolate chips) and “mine” it with a paper clip. They found that the cookies had 26 to 40 chips in them.
The “land” was torn apart for good.
Students said they tried to imagine how the activities could be used in a classroom, since they had already observed classes. They will be certified to teach from the child level to sixth grade, after they do their student teaching.
James Nolan, a 30-year-old junior who used to be a Maine state trooper, said he would bring the NYSERDA materials back to the school where he has been observing teachers, in Odessa, Schuyler County.
“It was nice to be provided with materials that address New York state standards,” said Nolan, who is from Star Lake in the Adirondack Park and has watched people there rely on fuel oil to heat their homes.
Juniors Derrick Rossi of Chenango Forks and Nikki Reid of Sherwood, and senior Samantha Perkins of Freeville, said the activity with the blanket on the floor would work well if it were adjusted for elementary students, where more students had a chance and the class had more time to pick up the beads.
“I don’t know if they’d get the point if it was too fast,” Rossi said.
“I always had a concern about energy use, and we were doing environmental activities in school,” said Pinto, who helped secure funding for a sixth-grade class to create a solar energy project that powers McGraw Elementary School. “And if we’re going to leave something for our kids, we need to do something about it. Our lifestyles will change if we don’t change, as we run out of resources.”


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