Students explore green technology

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Gladesboro students get visit from mobile learning lab

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter



The STEM Mobile Learning Lab, featuring solar and wind and other green tech, parked at Gladesboro Elementary Wednesday proved that classroom lessons can have a pretty big “wow factor” for students.
Gladesboro educators asked the biodiesel-powered mobile classroom to travel a few miles farther west to spend two days with its students.
Each child and teacher got to use the interactive displays in the lab, designed to get students excited about science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, education, according to facilitator Dave Sartin of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.
Carroll educators have increasingly emphasized these areas of education to help prepare students for the working world after graduating from school.
The mobile lab showcases several “green and clean” energy sources, much to the delight of the children, as evidenced by their exclamations of “wow” and “whoa” at the demonstrations.
“We believe hands on means minds on,” Sartin said. “That way, you’ll remember it.”
About 12 students would climb into the trailer at a time for a 40-minute lesson.
They started off by becoming “human generators” — turning a crank not unlike bicycle pedals to produce enough electricity to light up an old-fashioned incandescent bulb and then a compact fluorescent bulb.
The crank had a lot more resistance and took more work to light up the 60-watt incandescent than the 13-watt CFL.
When Sartin asked if any of the students were already using CFLs at home, eight raised their hands.
Just like it took more effort to generate enough energy by hand to light the incandescent, the same is true for the amount of fossil fuels that need to burn to power that type of bulb. Those who already use fluorescent bulbs are helping conserve fuel.
If homes have 10 bulbs in place, it will take 470 watts less to light up the CFLs than the incandescents, which will translate to a savings on the electricity bill.
Fluorescents cost a little more than the other kind, but Sartin held up one CFL that stayed operable from December 2005 until February of this year. Sartin noted that incandescent bulbs typically last six months.
For solar panel demonstrations, Sartin turned on a sun lamp to show the possibilities with that kind of green energy.
A solar collector placed in the light caused a fan blade to turn. If the solar panel moved closer to the light source, the fan turned faster. If a student covered the collector with his hand, the blades slowed down.
Toy frogs fitted with a solar panel started jumping in the light and a toy car rolled.
“He would hop all day until he hopped into the shade,” Sartin said about the frog.
“You see that take off?” he said about the car. “You have a smooth enough surface, that will run all day.”
The facilitator used a regular house fan to show students how a wind turbine worked. Students could read the amount of electricity created off a volt meter.
Students seemed particularly thrilled with seeing images through a microscope.
Though the red, blue and clear shapes displayed on a laptop screen appeared to be rocks, Sartin said they were only grains of sand. Lying on the beach, the grains of sand appear brown, but seen up close, it becomes obvious each mineral has its own properties and colors.
A hand-held Proscope allowed students to check out more everyday objects. “This is 200 times what you can see with the naked eye.”
Students could see the spines on a blade of grass blown up to the size of a tree trunk on the screen.
“Lets see your fingernails,” one requested.
“They’re dirty,” came the reaction to the image on the screen.
Children also got a color lesson, when they saw that blue printed over the top of yellow on a picture of a field of corn makes green. Sartin said that’s because only four colors form the basis of all the others in printing — blue, yellow, red and black.
Many of the fourth graders said, “Whoa,” when the polka dots of color appeared on the screen.
Holding up the scope to a pencil lead, a student reacted, “It looks like a granite counter top,” for all the flecks of color that suddenly became visible.
The truck that pulled the mobile classroom also gave Sartin the opportunity to talk about green technology. A diesel fill up would only get about 240 miles to a tank, but the researchers added two 40-gallon tanks inside the truck bed so that the vehicle could fill up on fuel made from vegetable oil that they get for free from restaurants.
With the alternative fuel, the truck now gets more than a 1,000 miles on its biodiesel mix.
Children also wanted to see the “Hydrocar” work, but time had run out.
“This stuff is awesome,” one student exclaimed after looking around.