Energy Experts: Project-Based Learning in Action at Crystal River Elementary School

ACES Staff

November 22, 2016

Energy Experts: Project-Based Learning in Action at Crystal River Elementary School

At the start of the 2016/2017 school year, Crystal River Elementary School adopted the Project-Based Learning Initiative (PBL) to guide their pedagogy. Throughout the year, Crystal River Educators will strive to implement this teaching method, which enables students to gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. To support this initiative, ACES is hosting a series of Family Science Nights to strengthen the curriculum offered during ACES Ed classes and encourage families to learn together, starting with the fourth grade energy unit.

Since the beginning of the school year, fourth graders in ACES Ed class at Crystal River Elementary School have engaged in an exploration to become energy experts. During this exploration, they have strived to answer the following driving question: “How do we, as energy experts, decide where our energy comes from?” Students have learned about what energy is, discussed potential and kinetic energy, identified seven different forms of energy, and explored the Law of Conservation of Energy. Our curriculum also enables students to take an in-depth look into nonrenewable energy sources. Student teams researched uranium, natural gas, coal, or oil and created posters focused on the extraction of the energy source, how we use the energy source, the advantages of the energy source, and the disadvantages of the energy source.  

During this unit, fourth graders visited ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch for an extended energy program emphasizing renewable energy sources. At the Ranch, students engaged in several energy challenges such as engineering wind, water, and solar energy systems. Students also explored sustainable energy initiatives in place at Rock Bottom Ranch, including the up-and-coming technology featured in our new Seed Start House.

Finally, to complement and celebrate the energy unit, fourth grade students and their families were invited to the first CRES Family Science Night, “Energy Experts” on Tuesday, November 15th. During this event, students presented their nonrenewable energy posters and encouraged parents to work side-by-side their students, as they too embarked on the energy exploration to become energy experts.

Event participants learned from their fourth grader about how to generate the most energy by completing the following activities:

  • Creating a large circuit with solar panels
  • Finding the best configuration of wind turbine blades
  • Creating the best hydropower system using a system of pipes and a hydroturbine.

In addition, parents and students put the Law of Conservation of Energy to the test, transforming mechanical energy into chemical energy to make salsa! Participants pedaled a bicycle which powered a blender containing local ingredients including onions and bell peppers from ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch, tomatoes from Hotchkiss, CO, cilantro from Longmont, CO, and limes. Families also compared the food-miles that this local and homemade salsa traveled versus food-miles for salsa from the grocery store, whose ingredients often come from around the world!

The first ACES Family Science Night was a success, with more than 65 people in attendance. The event engaged parents in their students’ learning and supported the Project-Based Learning Initiative at Crystal River Elementary School. One CRES parent even remarked that the event inspired them to create their very own hyrdro-power system on an irrigation ditch on their property!

ACES looks forward to the next Family Science Nights at CRES: “Owl Moon” for first grade families on Thursday February 9th, 2017 and “Creepy Crawly Night” for second grade families on Tuesday May 2nd, 2017. 

~ Dustin Hall, ACES Educator






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