Raising Bioenergy Literacy for High School Students and Teachers
The NARA Imagine Tomorrow program is designed to engage high school students to develop creative solutions for society’s energy challenges in the area of biofuels. The program’s intent is to raise bioenergy literacy among high school students and teachers with the long-term objective of preparing a future workforce and populace to participate in a biofuel industry.
To accomplish this task, the program is engaged in three primary tracks:
1. Support the Imagine Tomorrow competition
2. Provide training and resources to teachers and students
3. Conduct program assessments
The Imagine Tomorrow Competition
NARA is a major sponsor of the Imagine Tomorrow competition held annually at Washington State University. NARA’s participation allowed this event to expand from hosting only Washington state student teams to hosting teams from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. In addition, the competition now includes a “biofuels challenge” added to the previous categories of behavior, design and technology.
On May 18th, 2013, the sixth annual Imagine Tomorrow competition was held at Washington State University. Participation increased this year with 133 student teams total (112 in 2012) and 18 teams (14 in 2012) in the “biofuels challenge” category. Topics covered in the biofuels challenge covered biogas, biodiesel and ethanol production from a variety of feedstocks. Over 130 judges from throughout the Pacific Northwest and representing varied industries and disciplines reviewed and ranked the projects. The top four ranked projects in each category were awarded cash prizes for the students and the schools, as were other teams in special award categories such as ‘Most likely to Succeed in the Marketplace’ or ‘Global Impact’, and for highest ranked new school participation.
For more information about Imagine Tomorrow and to review judge and student comments, visit http://www.imagine.wsu.edu
Resources and Training for Teams
In an effort to increase the quality of team projects and the number of student participants, NARA’s education team took a proactive approach directed at Idaho schools. The University of Idaho’s MOSS (McCall Outdoor Science School) delivered a summer workshop and an annual biofuel Teacher Institute for 9-12 grade teachers. Over 60 teachers participated in the workshops. Teachers who requested assistance to prepare their students for the Imagine Tomorrow competition were paired with MOSS graduate students. Eleven Idaho teams were mentored by MOSS graduate students and entered the competition. MOSS plans to expand the mentoring to other states next year.
“I wouldn’t be brave enough to get a team together without MOSS”, said Sharon Cates, a chemistry teacher from Capitol High School in Boise Idaho who organized two teams to compete. MOSS graduate students met and stayed with high school teams for up to one week during the project’s development and then remained in touch via email, phone and through a blog. According to James Casey, a MOSS mentor and University of Idaho graduate student in the department of Natural Resources, the initial meetings were helpful to shape the project. “These guys really pushed us with questions” said Lee Brown, who brought three teams to compete from Rocky Mountain High School in Meridian, ID.
Not only did the teachers and students benefit from the interaction, but the graduate students from MOSS were rewarded as well. Carrie Anderson is working through a master’s degree in education at the University of Idaho. Most of her experience has been with elementary school programs. Having an opportunity to work with high school students and teachers broadened her education and reconfirmed her passion to connect students with the environment.
Conducting Program Assessments
An assessment is in place to evaluate the effects of Imagine Tomorrow on students’ STEM career choices and energy literacy. In 2012, this team conducted a preliminary STEM student survey with a 35% response rate. The survey asked students to rate their interest in STEM careers after participating in the Imagine Tomorrow competition. 42% of the students responded that they were more interested in STEM careers after participating in Imagine Tomorrow while 39% stated that their interest level remained the same. These surveys were expanded in 2013 to include information on career choices and interest in the various fields related to energy. Future tracking is anticipated to longitudinally track education and career paths of past participants. To measure the level of energy literacy gained, Imagine Tomorrow competition abstracts from 2009 through 2012 were scored. A subset of bioenergy literacy was also ranked. Scoring revealed that the energy and bioenergy literacy was improving in the abstracts. Information on the competition products such as posters, PowerPoint presentations and models was also collected for assessing energy literacy improvements from the competition post the abstract phase.
The effect of teacher workshops conducted through MOSS was also assessed by survey information with the following results:
- All participants showed a statistically significant increase in content knowledge related to biofuels, water resources and climate change.
- In a 9-month follow-up survey, 68% of teachers report being more likely to use a problem-based learning pedagogy after being involved in a MOSS teacher workshop.
- 90% of teachers report that they learned new ways of teaching.
- 66% percent of teachers agree or strongly agree that they have a good understanding of biofuels, that they understand key parts of the supply chain and that they have enough of an understanding to have developed an informed opinion about the feasibility of a woody biomass biofuel program in the Pacific Northwest.
- 45.8% of teachers say that they have been able to incorporate biofuels into their teaching.