Young researchers take readings and do analysis to help make their schools more efficient

Shining the light on energy use


Armed with clipboards and various gadgets that resembled those on old episodes of Star Trek, sixth-graders Matt Lurie, Holly Sandler and Daniel Pham entered a Clarksville Middle School classroom and immediately started taking readings.

Daniel, 11, grabbed a flashlight, dropped to the floor and looked in between a desk and wall trying to identify a power plug. Matt, 11, pointed an infrared machine at a television and began shouting numbers. And Holly, 12, recorded the data.

For three months, this scene at Clarksville Middle School has been repeated as pupils in two of Sandy Vinje's sixth-grade Gifted- and-Talented Program science classes conduct energy audits throughout the school as part of the Green Schools program, which teaches students about energy efficiency.

In their audits, the pupils have discovered that the school can reduce energy consumption by up to 14 percent simply by turning off lights that are not being used. Students will debut energy conservation commercials during televised morning announcements in school and present their findings to school administrators next week.

"They are psyched about it," said Vinje. "We're looking more at real-life research."

Begun in 1996, the Green Schools program has been adopted by 200 schools in Maryland, California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Howard County's two-year, $80,000 project is being funded by the Educational Foundation of America, Maryland Energy Administration and the county school system.

In California, high school students in the Green Schools program can enroll in an energy-training course and conduct audits of businesses, preparing reports and recommendations for the businesses to follow. In New York, high school students have prepared lesson plans and taught energy conservation to elementary school pupils.

"We help the schools save energy, thus saving money," said Kerry Quinn, senior program associate for the Alliance to Save Energy, the Washington -based energy efficiency organization that oversees the Green Schools program. "We increase awareness about energy efficiency and engage students using hands-on tools."

Staff members from seven Howard County schools attended a Green Schools training session in November, including representatives from Mount View, Harper's Choice, Lime Kiln, Elkridge Landing and Clarksville middle schools, Oakland Mills High School and Homewood School.

"We show them the tools used to measure energy levels in schools and give them lesson plans," Quinn said. "Each school [then ] comes up with an [implementation] plan."

Vinje, who attended the training session, then divided her classes into small groups, each assigned a specific area of the school to audit. The groups were armed with equipment to measure energy use and a checklist of machines to analyze.

Holly Sandler's favorite device is a hand-held, infrared thermometer that measures the amount of energy a machine uses.

"You can pull the trigger and it says the temperature," Holly explained. "You are actually involved. In other classes, it's all [about] looking up stuff. This [class], you can do stuff."

Principal JoAnn Hutchens said the students have been highly organized.

"I'm very pleased with what the students did," Hutchens said. "I'm impressed with the way they are motivated and put it together. They took the ball and ran with it."

Hutchens said she will follow the students' energy conservation recommendations such as turning off lights and unplugging certain equipment that is not being used.

"Of course!" she said. "They came up with reasonable, excellent recommendations. [And] it came at a great time with the cost of energy."

At Clarksville Middle, 11-year-old Jordan Tuwiner said he has most enjoyed the research aspect of the project.

"I liked learning about all the machines and seeing how they worked," Jordan said.

Evan Johnson, 11, said that he was surprised to learn that a computer monitor uses 80 percent of the total energy needed to run a computer.

Katie Marlitt, 12, said she enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the project.

"You are more engaged than when you do [work] on the computer," she said.

Vinje plans to continue the program.

"The kids discovered an awful lot, totally on their own," Vinje said. "They are so excited about implementing it, especially since the electric rates are going up."

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