Stem High School, Redmond Washington: First place team in 2014 Imagine Tomorrow biofuels category. From left to right: Oisin Doherty, Pavan Kumar, Mike Town (Coach), Andrew Wang, Ethan Perrin, Isaak Nanneman. Bob Hubner photo/WSU
Stem High School, Redmond Washington: First place team in 2014 Imagine Tomorrow biofuels category. From left to right: Oisin Doherty, Pavan Kumar, Mike Town (Coach), Andrew Wang, Ethan Perrin, Isaak Nanneman. Bob Hubner photo/WSU

The Imagine Tomorrow competition, partially funded by NARA, encourages high school students to solve challenges related to energy and biofuels. The desired outcome from these activities is to increase the level of energy and bioenergy literacy and encourage students to prepare for careers that will contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive bioenergy economy.

Student and teacher reaction to the Imagine Tomorrow competition has been enthusiastic, and team numbers are increasing dramatically every year since its inception. While these results are encouraging, they do not provide a measure of student learning nor an indication of whether the students are motivated to pursue further education in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) related field at the college level.

Recently, two reports were submitted that provide some indication to how the Imagine Tomorrow event impacts high school students. One assessment evaluates the level of energy literacy and biofuels literacy reflected in the students’ abstracts and posters and the other measures the students’ experience and career intentions.

View Imagine Tomorrow Literacy Assessments and Surveys here

Biofuels literacy assessment

The study titled “Energy literacy and biofuels literacy assessment of abstracts and posters” measures the energy literacy for all Imagine Tomorrow entries (n=140) and conducted a separate biofuels literacy assessment for the 22 biofuels category teams. The biofuels category is one of four entry challenges in the Imagine Tomorrow completion.

The study expands on a recently published assessment initiated in 2013. For this study, the authors included a rubric used to measure the biofuels literacy as reflected in the abstracts and posters developed by the student teams. Evaluators used the rubric to score the abstracts and posters from the biofuels challenge entries on a scale of 0 to 5 (0 absent, 1 emerging, 2 developing, 3 competent, 4 effective and 5 mastering). To aid the evaluators and increase validity, a matrix was then developed in 2014 that paired rubric categories with elements contained in the Department of Energy guide “Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education Version 2.0”.

2014 assessment results show that students do better at describing technical concepts over impacts in their posters. Those teams that develop their projects as part of an extracurricular activity show greater biofuels literacy than those that manage their project in class. Little difference in biofuel literacy is noted between male and female participants or whether their project advisor taught a high school STEM related course. Due to the relatively few teams in the biofuels category (n=22), the trends reflected are not as apparent or as valid as those available from the energy literacy assessment. An interesting trend shown in the energy literacy assessment is that students in their junior year demonstrated the greatest energy literacy over students from senior, sophomore and freshman years. Another interesting result reflected in the biofuel and energy literacy assessments is that males and females perform equally well.

These assessments provide a novel approach to measuring bioenergy and biofuel literacy and will be further developed in the subsequent years. They suggest some interesting trends and will provide a baseline to assess the biofuel and bioenergy literacy impacts from future Imagine Tomorrow competitions.

Imagine Tomorrow impact and experience assessment

For this assessment, 164 students who competed in the 2014 Imagine Tomorrow competition responded to a questionnaire. Event judges and team advisors also supplied information from separate questionnaires. Forty nine percent of the students indicated that their interest in the topic was the main motivator to participate. On a three-point scale (1=low; 2=medium; 3=high), 90 percent of the students indicated a 2 or 3 with 44% selecting 3 to whether they would want to pursue a STEM related career. Students responded to an additional question regarding their experience and a majority indicted a positive experience.

During the upcoming year, data across the two years will be evaluated to assess outcome trends and distinctions.