Workshop sheds light on electricity, efficient energy use
BENNINGTON -- A representative of the Vermont Energy Education Program stopped by the Bennington Free Library on Thursday afternoon to teach two groups of children about how electricity is generated and how they can work to make their energy use more efficient.
Lisa Holderness, a veteran science teacher who has been with VEEP for the past year, led the extremely interactive program, which is offered free to any schools or libraries that are interested. About 20 children showed up for the first program, which was designed for 6- to 12-year-olds, and about seven showed up for the second, intended for older kids. The programs lasted about an hour and a half.
VEEP, which is funded partially through the energy efficiency charge built into Vermont electric bills, was founded in 1979 by the Vermont Departments of Public Service and Education, in response to a dramatic increase in requests from teachers for energy and environmental curricula during the oil embargo. The goal of the organization is to engage students about the issue of energy. In 2013, the organization made 268 presentations at 69 schools across the state, reaching 6,459 students and teachers.
"Electricity runs our world and no one understands it very well," said Holderness to the assembled students, who either voluntarily took time during their summer vacations to learn about energy, or were coerced by their parents. She began the presentation by giving each student a crank-flashlight, made of clear plastic, and asked them to take five minutes to try to figure out what, precisely, was going to happen when they started to crank it. All the students knew that it would produce light; how exactly the light came to be was another matter entirely. (For the curious, the flashlights produced electricity with a magnet and copper wire).
After the experiment with the flashlights, Holdnerness demonstrated some other ways electricity can be produced, including through wind, solar, and hydro power, and talked about some of the pros and cons of each method, as well as some others. "The pro of nuclear power," she said, "is that it doesn't produce any climate changing gases. The con is that it's creating radioactive waste that no one knows what to do with. That's a pretty big con."
The highlight of the demonstration came when she had each of the students try to power three different lightbulbs using energy generated from a bicycle hooked up to a coil-and-magnet system similar to the one they had seen in the flashlights earlier in the program. One by one the students saw how easy it was to light and keep lit the 9.5 watt LED bulb and the 18 watt compact fluorescent bulb, and one by one they struggled to keep the 75 watt incandescent bulb lit, their faces turning red. "It's like biking up Silver Street!" said one.
Holderness said that although the program is free, she hasn't yet had the opportunity to visit many Bennington schools, saying that she had only been to Monument Elementary so far. "I don't think you ever get to do enough science in school," she said, noting that the program was designed to work with science education standards adopted by the state.
"If you train yourself," she told the students, "you can be better than most of the adults walking around out there. You can see ways that you are wasting electricity and think up ways that we can be more efficient."
Holdnerness asked the students what schools they attended (many were from Bennington Elementary and Mount Anthony Union Middle School, with one from the Village School of North Bennington), and said that she hoped to see them in their classrooms in the fall.
Any school interested in bringing Holderness and her program into the classrooms, or learning more about VEEP, can visit veep.org.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB