Young energy powers environmental educationEnvironmental educator and River Falls resident Aleisha Miller said she’s having fun teaching 2nd and 4th graders in the school district about energy.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Environmental educator and River Falls resident Aleisha Miller said she’s having fun teaching 2nd and 4th graders in the school district about energy.
Miller started this fall the new contracted position that’s funded by the POWERful Choices program administered by River Falls municipal Utilities. The Journal visited Rocky Branch Elementary School last week while she worked with a big group of students.
The day’s exercise required them to get up, hunt the classroom and list all the things they could find that use electricity.
They dashed from thermostat to lights to the turtle aquarium, furiously writing down their finds and sharing ideas.
Miller then listed the items and discussed energy efficiency and conservation.
She showed the kids her “smart” power strip, which can sense when something like the computer shuts off. The strip then cuts power to the computer as well as all its accessories like the printer, speakers, monitor, etc.
It prevents those devices from drawing what Miller calls a “phantom load” by essentially doing the same thing as unplugging all those devices would do.
She said a computer monitor for example -- in sleep mode as opposed to turned off -- might cost around $27/year. That may not be a lot for some individuals, but it really adds up in a school or office with multiple computers and systems.
She also shared with them a kilowatt meter, named “kill-a-watt,” which measures the amount of electricity something uses.
“You can check these out (borrow) at the public library,” she said.
Miller said her curriculum covers all kinds of energy but focuses mainly on electricity. She said the first round of classes included an introduction to energy.
The second session defined energy in all its forms, including the kind humans use, as well as wind, water, natural gas and a few others. The third session focused on electricity and conservation.
Second graders colored energy-themed sheets then talked about energy efficiency and also got to see the “kill-a-watt” meter. With 4th graders, Miller looked at a map showing all the power plant locations in Wisconsin.
“And since we have a power plant in River Falls, we talked about that,” she said.
Many kids thought the utilities department generates the city’s power and that all of it comes from the hydroelectric dam. The kids learned the utilities’ role in transmitting power and that the dam produces a fraction of the city’s electricity.
Future classes cover energy generation, both renewable and traditional sources.
The Energy Education program consists of Miller spending one class a month with each 2nd and 4th grade class at each school. Sometimes the sessions also include 5th graders, who mix with 4th graders for a few subjects.
She spends 30 minutes with the younger kids and 45 minutes with the older ones. By February Miller will have spent six sessions with each group at each school.
She said the lessons are all designed to build upon one another. She was thrilled to realize the students do remember their previous discussions with her.
Education comes full circle
Miller came to town in 1997 and studied environmental science and conservation at UW-River Falls.
“And then I never left,” she smiled.
As a student, she got an intern job with St. Croix County. Later, the environmental educator resigned and asked if Miller was interested in the job.
She became the county’s contracted environmental educator, and in that capacity, does various presentations about environmental science and conservation.
“I’ve been doing environmental education since 2003,” she said.
Miller learned about the teaching opportunity from Mike Noreen, the city’s Conservation and Efficiency coordinator. She’d met Noreen at a garage sale in their neighborhood before he began working at the city.
Miller also works through her company, Miller Escape -- the second word also an acronym standing for environmental-science-conservation-public education.
Noreen said the school district’s strategic plan includes goals for environmental and conservation education in schools. POWERful Choices looked at how it could help beyond what it already does or is planning, such as teacher training, materials grants for middle school grades and a future energy project at the high school.
He said, “We asked: ‘How do we help the kids?’”
The energy education seemed good since it not only gives kids knowledge they can use but also provides a curriculum and model teachers can use. Experts within the school district recommended which grades would attend the classes.
Noreen said Miller’s presence in the elementary schools represents a pilot program that the utilities would like to see continue.