My POE class is studying energy sources and distribution these days, along with doing some circuit calculations. The energy distribution lesson calls for a field trip to a local power utility facility, which sounds cool, and I’m told the NIPSCO tour is all kinds of awesome, but what if we did something slightly different? And maybe cooler?
Back on New Teacher World Tour Day our bus made a stop at the Porter County Career and Technical Center, where principal Jon Groth gifted us a stress ball and told us about the building’s Alternative Energy Program.
The success of the program, from its humble roots born out of state budget cuts due to the Great Recession, to its all-students, hands-on design and implementation, to the profit it generates for the PCCTC thru NIPSCO’s Feed-In Tariff program, has been pretty well documented. But these guys in my class are better than just showing up, walking through, and hearing a story. I challenged them: Find out everything there is to know about this program. Before we go over there. I don’t want Mr. Groth to be able to tell you anything you don’t already know.
That way, I figured, they can use their limited field trip time asking good questions.
So I split the activity into three parts: 1) research (Doc here: pcctcvisitprep), 2) the trip itself, 3) documenting their learning (appended on to the shared research doc).
Oh, as part of my thank-you email, I also shared the doc with Mr. Groth, who took time out the day after the visit to make some comments and add to the students’ learning. That’s a teacher, right there.
For me (and maybe for my students), the biggest takeaway was something that Jon Groth told us early on during the visit: “We’re not experts.”
What kind of person admits that to visitors? The kind of person who is proud of the curiosity of his students and teachers. Who has seen them ask, over and over, “What if?” And who has seen them pursue those answers and put the solutions into practice.
Once the ball started rolling, these guys want to keep pushing the process forward. If they don’t know an answer, they’ll find it out. If they don’t know the result of a slight change, they’ll test the change and document the results. If you notice in that photo of the solar array above (I don’t have to point this out to my OCD people), the panels in the last row are tilted at a steeper angle than those in the front. The students are testing different angles to determine which angle will result in the most power.
The most recent addition to the array is a vertically oriented cylindrical windmill. It is totally uncharted territory. The classes consulted with the students at the Alternative Energy program at Valparaiso University. The PCCTC students asked the VU guys if the design was good, if they had “done it right”. Know what the VU guys said? – “We don’t know. Try it and find out. Then let us know”
Don’t need to tell these guys twice. That’s practically the PCCTC motto. It’s the classroom culture I’ve been trying to build for a long time now.
And: It’s Project Lead The Way in a nutshell.