New institute to help K-6 teachers convey responsible energy use

Discussion among institute participants.SUNY Oswego’s living laboratory will play host in August to a teacher-training effort to deliver lessons of energy stewardship to young schoolchildren.

The Energy and Sustainability Institute for Elementary Teachers will take place Aug. 9 to 13 at Rice Creek Field Station, the biologically diverse 400-acre site south of campus.

The new program filled to its 20-teacher capacity in about 48 hours, said Dr. Alok Kumar, chair of the college’s physics department and co-organizer of the institute. He saw that as a demonstration of intense interest among Oswego County educators in starting lessons of environmental responsibility in the earliest grades.

“The response is so overwhelmingly positive that I hope we’ll be able to offer it again in the coming years,” Kumar said. He credited Cindy Pauldine, a teacher who works in professional development for the Oswego City School District, with rallying interest among elementary teachers.

Teachers of grades K-6 will learn and share ideas for field trips and exercises, including assembling a solar-powered motor, explaining the water cycle from rain to wastewater, showing the impacts of humans along the shores of Lake Ontario and much more.

“As a child, when we learn things, it stays with us for life,” Kumar said. “For the young, it has to be experienced, with hands-on activities. If you unfold the mysteries of nature through experiment or experience, you retain the information for a much longer period.”

Green roots

The idea started taking root in December to put together a free five-day, elementary-level program. It spins off SUNY Oswego’s annual Energy Institute for high school teachers, which has an option for graduate credit.

“This program has become a reality due to the constant encouragement of Jack Gelfand, director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, and the sponsorship of his office,” Kumar said.

Co-organizer Diann Jackson, assistant director of Rice Creek Field Station, said the institute’s sessions will focus on forms and sources of energy; defining and putting sustainability into action; and uses and conservation of energy at school, in the home and around the community.

“We’re introducing teachers to some resources and tools to motivate their students about environmental issues,” Jackson said. “I’m very excited about this. It’s going to be a full week, a fun week.”

Kumar and Jackson have enlisted the support of the state Energy Research and Development Authority, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), New York Sea Grant and Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“These agencies are assisting the college and school districts in developing this partnership,” said Jackson. “Rice Creek is a perfect location for this institute.”

Natural habitat

Rice Creek’s surroundings will help teachers learn how to impart lessons of watersheds, wetlands, wind and solar power. Teachers also will receive practical tools, like kits to put together simple motors operated by photovoltaic cells.

Kumar said the biggest issue with the institute is that it is oversubscribed, and he had to say “not this summer” to so many interested elementary teachers from around Oswego County. He said there is strong potential for grants to perpetuate and perhaps expand the institute in coming years.

Matt Spindler, who teaches vocational teacher preparation in the School of Education, will work to assess the benefit of the curriculum for the teachers, with an eye to making improvements and additions, Kumar said.

PHOTO CAPTION: Energetic engagement—Dara Sanoubane, a SUNY Oswego employee who this fall will become a teacher at Discovery Middle School in Vancouver, Wash., makes a point July 6 during a session of the Energy Institute for high school teachers in Wilber Hall. The institute has spun off one for elementary school teachers Aug. 9 to 13 at Rice Creek Field Station.

(Posted: Jul 21, 2010)

Tags: teaching, sustainability, rice creek field station, none, energy