tools for school

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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Want Kids to Do Better in School? This Environmental Approach Can Help

Schools are busy places, with bustling schoolyards, kitchens full of lunchboxes and trays, and kids and adults who constantly come and go. These busy environments can sometimes have pest problems that need to be addressed – like flies, spiders, yellow jackets, roaches and ants, for example.

As a parent, I know how important it is to me that my kids and their classmates have a healthy environment to learn, thrive and grow. Unhealthy school environments – including poor air quality — can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance. Pest exposure can also trigger asthma, which can cause kids to miss class and a chance to learn.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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That’s My Daughter’s Radon Poster Design on the T-Shirt You’re Wearing!

I love T-shirts, but what I love even more is a T-shirt about radon, and what I love even more than that is seeing my daughter’s poster design about radon on a T-shirt. Each year, state radon programs have been supporting children, parents and teachers to do just that for the National Radon Poster Contest. The contest is cosponsored by EPA and Kansas State University. The contest is an artistic yet educational way to teach students about radon and its effects on our health. We all have much to learn about radon, and we can help spread awareness by wearing these unique T-shirts and pinning up those posters in our offices and buildings. Do you want to know how to get contest information?2010_participatingmap

The top three picks nationwide, their teacher or sponsor, and a parent or guardian win a trip to Washington D.C. The students will be honored in front of a huge crowd of supporters at the annual IAQ Tools for Schools Symposium held from January 13 to 15, 2011. I had the pleasure of attending the national award ceremony last year. As I watched the students walk up to the podium to receive their accolades, I remembered just how powerful and passionate a message becomes when we hear it from a child.

Check out past national winners and their posters in the below photo. Visit the website to see more winning posters, video and audio. Last year’s contest had submissions from 37 states totaling nearly 3,000 entries! That’s up more than 1,000 from the year before. Well done!poster-winners-2009_

Don’t think you’re getting off that easy because I have a challenge: Let’s get entries from all 50 states this year! Look at the map of the poster contest participation last year and let all our blog readers know when you challenge someone from one of those states in white to submit an entry. Come on Arkansas, Wyoming, Maine; I know you have at least one child age 9 to 14 who would love to take advantage of this huge opportunity to help save a life. Don’t let them miss it, and tell those kids to get their creativity on because the deadline is approaching – October 31. Some states have earlier deadlines, so check for additional information.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a Physical Scientist in the Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry, and public agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

A Back-to School Checklist for Indoor Air Quality?

It’s that time of year again and everyone can relate to the annual school supply checklist and the hours spent preparing for the upcoming school year. Binders – check. Pens – check. But, how many school staff, parents or students stop to think about whether the school they will return to is a healthy learning environment—free of indoor air quality (IAQ) issues?

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Before coming involved with EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program, little did I know that the everyday classroom environment can seriously affect student performance. Was that vanilla plug-in from my 7th grade math class a decoy to mask an odor problem, caused by poor ventilation? Did Fluffy the 3rd grade pet rabbit make my asthma worse?

While I can’t change the past conditions, I look forward to a future where all schools can effectively manage indoor air quality and maintain a healthy learning environment. With the help of the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Action Kit, school staff and parents can learned on how to improve indoor air problems at little-or no-cost through straightforward activities. Use this back-to-school checklist help you get started this school year:

  • Learn more about IAQ issues, related health effects, and how student performance is affected. Equip yourself with EPA’s free resources that can help you explain IAQ issues and discuss an indoor air quality management program other parents, community organizers, and your school community. Consider becoming a volunteer to help coordinate the effort.
  • Build momentum for a school environmental health project. With the help of IAQ Curricula, even students can learn about the indoor air environment and how it can affect concentration, attendance, and performance.
  • Help manage asthma in the school environment. Discover ways reduce student and staff exposure to asthma triggers in your school. If your child suffers from asthma, be sure to provide the school with a copy of your child’s asthma action plan.
  • Encourage your school to apply for an award. If your school or school district has implemented a successful IAQ program, learn more about the EPA Awards Program.

About the Author: Brandy Angell is a public affairs specialist with the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air’s Indoor Environments Division. She joined EPA in 2009 to focus on improving children’s health in the school environment and reducing the burden of asthma. Her work recently took on new importance with the impending arrival of a son in January 2011.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.