Middle School Classes Explore Sustainability through Solar Energy

Inspired by the SRDS Gala theme of  "going green" 7th and 8th grade classes explored the topic of sustainability as part of their end of year coursework.

Science and Engineering teacher Anastasia Kelly gave her Middle School students the opportunity to self-select what they would study as part of their end of year energy unit. The decision was that they wanted to do something related to sustainability and more specifically, how to harness solar energy.

7th Grade students learned how solar panels work by dissecting a calculator and testing solar circuits. To apply what they had learned through this exercise, the students did research on how cooking with solar panels is being used by many countries around the world. For their final project, they engineered their own solar ovens that cooked food at two different levels in less than 15 minutes. On the last day of class, students prepared s'more and quesadillas to share with the class.

The 8th Grade focused on sustainable agricultural concepts and the importance of developing ways to provide fresh, organically grown produce for a growing population. Students spent time researching the benefits of  "vertical gardening." Vertical gardening is a concept that incorporates using vertical space to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, or root crops using containers that hang on a sunny wall. They discovered that vertical gardening helps reduce the carbon footprint by filtering pollution and carbon dioxide out of the air. In addition, vertical gardens also save a significant amount of valuable farm land. For their final project, students built their own vertical gardens in the classroom. All the systems supported three levels of plants with working watering systems. The gardens were tended to on a daily basis and produced fresh lettuce, spinach and parsley.

In a globalizing world of limited resources and unlimited ingenuity, academic institutions such as Saddle River Day School must play a vital role in preparing students to meet the sustainability challenges of the future. The imperatives of sustainability point not only to new course content, but also to new ways of teaching that content. As a project with relevance across the disciplines, sustainability presents a valuable paradigm for rethinking pedagogy.

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