Students Learn to Make Energy Decisions

July 23, 2016

Energy Decisions photo 2

An initiative that was introduced at DeWitt Middle School, Boynton Middle School, and Ithaca High School last spring will change the way students approach energy-decision making. This curriculum, funded by an Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) Teacher Grant, will reach over 1,000 students as it continues into the 2016-17 school year, too.


This innovative new curriculum uses geographical information system (GIS) mapping to help students make educated decisions about energy-related challenges. Community partner Karen Edelstein is a GIS Specialist with FracTracker Alliance. Edelstein partnered with Laura VanVleet to create digital story maps for the Ithaca City School District (ICSD), thus establishing an interactive and media-rich mapping program.


These maps and lesson plans function as an organizational system that connects the students’ activities and documents together. Students will use these maps as a way to link what they have learned to what they would like to learn about each topic.


Sixth-graders will focus on nuclear and hydroelectric energy, while seventh-graders study fossil fuel, global climate change, and biofuels. Eighth graders will study alternative energies, and tenth graders in Earth Science will study geothermal, hydro-fracking, and global climate change’s effects on weather.


To better understand these environmental issues, students will be presented with multiple perspectives on each topic so that they can form their own opinions.


For each grade level – sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth – there will be a corresponding energy-based activity for the students to complete. During these activities, students analyze energy-related issues and apply critical thinking skills to reach solutions.


Writing and reading skills, media literacy skills, digital mapping skills, graph and data analysis skills, and scientific research analysis skills will be featured in each activity. Thus far, this initiative has been field tested by students at DeWitt Middle School, and the curriculum will advance to other grade levels beginning fall of 2016.


In her application for the grant, VanVleet explains the future implications for the curriculum. “As this Teacher Grant is part of the larger sabbatical project, the intention is long term.  The goal is for Energy Decisions: PBL (problem-based learning) to become an institutional part of the science curriculum in both middle schools and Earth Science at the high school.” Once this curriculum launches, students will surely be more informed and prepared to make changes in their environment than they were before.


Teacher Grants provide up to $1,500 for projects that fund teachers’ great ideas involving community partners and aligning with NYS Learning Standards.

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