The Arlington and Marysville school districts are among those whose schools have received a total of 10 mini-grants for science-related educational projects from the Snohomish County Public Utility District. These grants help schools incorporate energy and water education into their curricula.
Energy education was the subject for which Donnica Farnsworth, a fifth-grade teacher at Kent Prairie Elementary in Arlington, and Cindy Vetter, a sixth-grade teacher at Totem Middle School in Marysville, were awarded grants of $500 each by the PUD.
Both Farnsworth and Vetter will be able to supply their students with kits to build their own solar-powered cars.
In Farnsworth’s class in Arlington, students will test variables to determine the efficiency of their cars, which should, in turn, help expand their knowledge of electricity, their appreciation for energy conservation and their understanding of solar energy’s potential.
“It’s taking what we’ve already done and taking it another step further,” Farnsworth said, noting that this will mark the third year in a row that the PUD has awarded a $500 mini-grant to her classroom, to incorporate energy and water education into her curriculum. Last year’s grant funded a solar energy classroom kit, which allowed her students to explore how solar energy can be transferred and transformed into other forms of energy. “This year’s kits will let them put things together in different ways, by connecting their circuits parallel or in series, and then seeing what those changes in the solar panels yield in terms of output.”
Farnsworth appreciates that such lessons allow students to educate themselves to an extent.
“I try not to dictate too much,” Farnsworth said. “This allows them to build experiences on their own, and to open their minds to science. It’s about fostering curiosity.”
This month, Farnsworth will be joining teachers from other districts for a “Solar Derby Day,” sponsored by Bonneville Power, to teach the teachers how to teach their students to build solar cars. Each teacher will receive an additional $700 in supplies, and their students will be able to race their cars at Safeco Field.
In Vetter’s class in Marysville, constructing the cars will serve as the hands-on component of a science enrichment class, focusing on engineering and design, intended to teach students about alternative energy. It will also include car races that will be broadcast on the school’s TV station.
“Our students are brainstorming with other kids, and then building their own contraptions,” Vetter said. “They’re coming up with their own questions and hypotheses, and then they’re putting them into action. Yes, they have to get procedural approval from me, but they’re the ones carrying out the processes and leaning through trial and error.”
Vetter praised the durability of the kits, which will allow next year’s students to conduct their own experiments, and lauded the PUD for its gifts to schools such as hers.
“The PUD wants children, as future consumers, to know more about energy,” Vetter said. “It’s encouraging them to get involved in environmental issues.”
“This relates to society and real-world experiences,” Totem Middle School Principal Tarra Patrick said. “It’s problem-solving on a level that engages them more than just exercises on a computer, or with pencils and paper.”