Students and teachers

Gamify the Grid! New EPA game Generate! Helps Students Understand the Relationship between Climate Change and Energy Production

By Rose Keane

When you’re teaching someone, sometimes you never know what’s going to stick. Some people need to hear the information, others might need to read it, but chances are the best way to get someone to remember is to have them try it themselves.

EPA researcher Rebecca Dodder is helping teachers provide middle school and high school students with these kinds of opportunities through her new Generate! game, a board game that requires the player to consider the costs and benefits of the type of energy we use and impacts on air quality and climate.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Hands-on learning! Kids play the Generate! game during Earth Day festivities at EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Having students actually grapple with the realities of financial limitations, carbon emissions, and limited natural resources makes the lesson much more tangible and long lasting. I had the chance to see these connections being made when students came to EPA’s campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C., to play the game during Earth Day festivities.

Here’s how it works.  In the first round, students select which sources of energy—for example, coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind—that they would like to use given a finite amount of resources (in this case the number and types of energy pieces). Each energy source comes with its associated installation and maintenance costs, and the aim is to meet energy demands (filling up the full board space) while spending as little as possible.

The second round, however, made things a bit trickier. As with our energy sources in real life, there is a cost associated with the carbon emissions of each energy piece, with heavier costs for higher carbon-emitting sources like coal, and smaller or no carbon costs for the renewable energy sources. These costs refer to the idea that for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted, there are increased costs to communities from climate change. As students factored these numbers in, they realized their original plan was no longer sustainable and also way too expensive. You could practically hear the groans coming from each group’s table when the final tallies came in.

In the third round, students were offered pieces called “efficiencies,” which represent our behaviors, consumer choices, and energy efficient appliances. These pieces incur relatively small costs initially (for example, how much it would cost to replace your washer and dryer), but in the long run actually save the player money. “Think about it,” Dodder said to the students, “A lot of these big decisions are out of our control, like whether or not to build a nuclear power plant, for example. The thing about the smaller energy efficiency pieces is that’s all the stuff that we can change – it’s all in our control.”

Making climate change and its impacts tangible for younger generations can be extremely difficult, but games like Generate! make these kinds of activities fun, educational, and remind the students that their energy choices are in their hands. Educators can use this game to help their students recognize the relationships between energy usage and climate change, and encourage them to investigate their role in the carbon cycle further.

Dr. Dodder’s innovative approaches to educating the younger generation about science and her research contributions are being recognized today at a ceremony in Washington, DC where she will receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists.

Learn more about the Generate! game and download your copy here.

About the Author: Rose Keane is an Oak Ridge Associated Universities contractor with the science communications team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Staying Sustainable at School

By Maddie Dwyer

As fall approaches, there’s one thing on every college kid’s mind: living on campus. Whether you’re excited or not, dorm life is coming, and it’s time to start getting ready. For me, this means using the things I learned at EPA this summer. Below are some tips for green living, which can help you whether you’re living in a dorm or an apartment, or at home.

  1. Saving Energy: It’s easy to save energy by making a few simple changes to your routine. Remember to always turn off the lights when you leave your room. If you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, and the luxury of controlling it, make sure it’s not left on if no one’s around.
  2. Conserving Water: There are lots of ways to use water efficiently. Take shorter showers and turn off the water when you are using soap, shaving, or brushing your teeth. Also, fixing leaky faucets is an important way to reduce wasted water.
  3. Reducing Waste: College is a great time to get into sustainable habits. Make a commitment to recycle everything you can, even if it means carrying recyclables until you find a recycling bin. Most campuses offer green dining options, like reusable take out boxes, glasses, and silverware. Take advantage of all the green options your school has to offer!
  4. Getting Involved: Every school is different, and will have different environmental issues to address. For example, as part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, my school is working to construct bioswales to filter run-off before it reaches the bay. Check out EPA’s resources for students looking to be greener at school. Whether you are advocating for safer cleaning products or encouraging energy efficient appliances, your school will be better off with your involvement.
  5. Make a Green Agreement with Your Roommate: Helping one another is a great way to make both you and your roommate more sustainable. Ask if it’s okay to unplug each other’s unused electronics, do laundry together, and figure out a schedule to keep the lights and AC off. I’ve been lucky to have lovely roommates and other amazing friends who are committed to green living, and it has helped me to become more sustainable every day.
Maddie and her roommate Grace

Maddie and her roommate Grace

So when moving back to campus, be sure to keep these tips in mind and have a wonderful, sustainable school year!

About the author: Maddie Dwyer studies environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland. She works as an intern for EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Going Green As You’re Going Back to School

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Summertime is coming to an end, and kids are heading back to school. And even though they’ll be spending less time outdoors, we should still be thinking about how to protect the environment and safeguard our children’s health. Fortunately, small actions can turn into big results for protecting the environment, and can even save extra money for the school year.

For example, try to cut down on waste. More than 30 percent of what we throw away comes from cardboard and plastic packaging. Look for pens, pencils, and other supplies that are packaged with recyclable materials. That goes for spiral notebooks and notebook paper, too. For every 42 notebooks made from 100 percent recycled paper, an entire tree is saved.

Buying school supplies every year can get expensive. A good way to save money is to conserve energy use around the house. Energy Star products – from lightbulbs and laptops to televisions and air conditioners – are more energy efficient, which means you’ll pay less in utility bills every month. In 2011, the use of Energy Star products helped Americans save $23 billion on their utility bills, and prevented more than 210 million metric tons of green house gas emissions.

There are also ways to make sure our schools are environmentally friendly. In addition to choosing products made from recyclable materials and using energy efficient appliances, check to make sure the products used to clean your child’s classrooms carry the “Design for the Environment” label. This label means those products are safer for students and better for the environment.

Every child deserves a clean and healthy place to learn – and all parents should be able to trust that their children’s health is not at risk when they send them off to school. The EPA is working hard to reduce health threats in the air we breathe and the water we drink, and we want to make sure schools and parents have what they need to minimize pollution in and around classrooms and give all of our kids healthy places to learn.

Last but not least, these actions help teach children the importance of a clean, healthy environment. Making “green” a part of everyday learning – both inside and outside the classroom – is an easy way to engage our kids in the efforts to safeguard the planet they will inherit, and protect their future.

<em>About the author: Lisa Jackson is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.</em>

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Una palabra con cinco letras para un gas radioactivo inerte

El otro día trabajaba en un crucigrama del periódico bastante difícil cuando me tropecé con esta clave – palabra con cinco letras para un gas radioactivo inerte. Bien, me dije a mí mismo, creo que sé ésta. Tiene que ser radón. Me hubiera gustado que el resto del crucigrama fuera igual de fácil!

Enero es el Mes Nacional de Acción de Radón y estoy escribiendo este blog para crear conciencia acerca de los peligros del radón. Afortunadamente, aquí puedo ofrecer más información que la clave de un crucigrama.

El radón es un gas que se produce en la naturaleza del uranio radioactivo en el suelo y en las rocas que se encuentra alrededor del mundo entero. Ya que los materiales radioactivos se descomponen y cambian con el tiempo, usted podría pensar que el uranio se desintegra. Sí, de hecho, se desintegra, primero y se convierte en radio, y después de un tiempo, el radio se desintegra en radón. Ya que el radón es un gas, este se mueve fácilmente a través del suelo y fluye desde el suelo hacia la atmosfera y los edificios. ¿Ahora comprende por qué me preocupan los niveles de radón en los hogares?

De hecho, aunque parece una idea descabellada, el radón puede adentrarse fácilmente en su hogar. Tome como ejemplo donde yo vivo, en nuestro frío clima del medio oeste, necesitamos calentar nuestros hogares. Al calentar el aire, el aire tibio sube y crea una mayor presión arriba y una baja presión abajo, que básicamente trabaja como una aspiradora que succiona el suelo debajo de la casa. Es por esta razón que vemos niveles elevados de radón en los sótanos y en los pisos bajos de algunos edificios.

Peor aún es el hecho de que aunque usted no puede ver ni oler el radón, éste si le hace daño. ¿Pensaba que el proceso de desintegración eliminaba el radón? Pues, claro que no lo elimina. El radón es radioactivo, así que también se descompone, y cuando lo hace libera partículas alfa. En sus pulmones, las partículas alfa causan daño al golpear los tejidos. El respirar muchas partículas alfa puede causar serios problemas de salud, incluyendo cáncer. El radón es la segunda causa principal de cáncer pulmonar, y la primera causa de cáncer pulmonar entre las personas que no fuman.

Por su salud y por la salud de su familia, haga la prueba de radón en su hogar. Hacer la prueba es la única manera de saber si los niveles de radón en su hogar están elevados. Si encuentra niveles de radón altos – 4 picocuríes o más – haga los arreglos en su hogar- lo cual también es fácil de hacer. Simplemente mire la página web de radón de la EPA. Me gustaría que el resto del crucigrama hubiera sido tan fácil como es hacer la prueba de radón.

Jack Barnette es un científico ambiental que trabaja para la División de Aire y Radiación en la oficina regional de la EPA en Chicago. El señor Barnette ha trabajado con la EPA desde el 1984, Antes de unirse a la EPA, trabajó para la Agencia Medioambiental del Sstado de Illinois. El señor Barnette trabaja en un número de asuntos del medio ambiente y salud publica incluyendo la calidad del aire interior, protección de radiación, educación en asma y monitoreo del aire.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.