Energy educators in Alaska are confronted with a “retail” reality in their efforts to forward energy literacy. Teacher time, student time, administrative support, safe learning environments; these are all fields of intense competition amongst outside institutions making a compelling case that their particular curriculum, lessons, materials and teachers deserve to be heard. Current REAP energy educators build on established relationships for return appearances within certain schools and classrooms. New inroads are typically formed through either a grassroots approach of contacting individual teachers or top-down inquiries to superintendents.
The easiest entry points are teachers and administrators familiar with energy literacy offerings, individuals who recognize the intrinsic value in increased energy literacy. Teacher champions are effective allies, but sometimes powerless to approve or implement outside curricula. Superintendents may be harder to interest, but more capable of motivating action on the part of several teachers. In both cases, making contact and eliciting a positive response is difficult.
Cold-calls, emailing and public presentations are time intensive endeavors that are not the best use of a limited resource: energy education instructors. Time spent trying to interest school districts and teachers in energy literacy is time not spent training teachers and instructing students in the principles of energy literacy.
- A strategic, targeted campaign designed to create awareness and utilization of energy literacy curriculum amongst Alaskan educators, administrators, students and parents.Gaining the attention of educators and administrators poses an initial challenge;However, this is achieved, there are numerous paths within existing state standards where impactful energy lessons could be delivered. An initiative of Alaska’s Department ofEducation and Early Development (DEED), the Alaska Science Curriculum Initiative (AKSCI), has explicitly mapped where energy literacy lessons might best be taught
within the K-12, Physical Science, Earth Science, and Biological Science curriculum. (Figure 1).15
Figure 1 from Alaska K-12 Science Curricular Initiative (AKSCI)
The convergence of state standards and energy literacy lessons should not be surprising. Energy permeates every aspect of our existence – consequently, there is perhaps no STEM principle, lesson, assignment, project or classroom conversation that could not be reconfigured through an energy literacy framework. World and U.S. History might easily be read as a continuous quest for sustainable energy resources. Subject alignment and relevance is not a hindrance to the adaptation of energy curriculum in Alaska schools. 16
Alaskan teachers are bound to specific lessons, under immense time pressures, are often not teaching in their subject area of expertise, teach in less than optimal classroom environments and face a flurry of demands and expectations from a hierarchy of supervisors. With such limited bandwidth, many teachers and administrators may simply be unaware of the existence of curriculum like AK EnergySmart, Wind for Schools; not to mention the importance/relevance of energy literacy in general.
- Develop a widely and consistently distributed one-sheet describing the Alaskan offerings, and the benefits of energy literacy lessons could open new doors or create an atmosphere of greater receptivity to current outreach efforts. While not recommending a complete takeover of the STEM, art, history, sociology and civics agendas within our schools – this strategy would emphasize the relevance of energy literacy as a compliment to nearly every conceivable lesson plan. Energy educators could position themselves as willing to tailor or help navigate classroom teachers toward materials and lessons to further specific classroom goals. Energy educators are positioned to lighten the load, not burden classroom teachers.
Such an approach might include the deployment of expertly crafted resources, images, examples and posters such as those available within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Literacy Guide: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts9:
These principles serve as a framework for discussing energy literacy and are not intended as strict starting points for classroom instruction. In the context of strategic efforts to communicate and leverage the value of energy literacy as a tool for enhancing STEM education, these principles (and the many subcategories that are included in the full DoE literacy guide) are as flexible as they are useful. The DoE Energy Literacy Principles and the treasure trove of supporting materials could usefully be thought of as an arsenal of marketing materials, developed by a vast team of experts who make a truly compelling case for Why? energy literacy.
- REAP is uniquely positioned to make the case for energy literacy, not only through itsclassroom offerings, but through its established history and close association withrenewable energy projects, industry, government agencies and technology developersthroughout the state. The glamorous narrative of Alaska as a world-leading, livinglaboratory for microgrid and renewable technologies could also be aggressively leveragedto increase young students’ interest in clean energy.
- Expand the STEM acronym to STEAM. The Arts are a recent edition to traditional STEMefforts. Most energy literacy outreach is focused on STEM teachers, or a specific STEMunit at the primary level. The addition of Arts suggests a wider appeal, one that mightfind a greater receptivity amongst teachers and administrators who are less accustomed tomaking energy literacy connections within their areas of expertise.
STEAM underscores the utility of outreach that leans into the DoE energy literacy principles. Consider the final principle on the DoE list: “The quality of life of individuals and societies is affected by energy choices.” In 2007, the Wisconsin K-12 Energy Education Program created lessons and materials designed specifically for social studies teachers. The course provided teachers and their students with energy-enriched lessons and teaching strategies. Teachers and energy literacy curricula developers worked together to identify existing activities and emphasize themes that were particularly useful for teachers of social studies. These teachers and curricula developers also worked to develop additional activities highlighting energy aspects of one or more social studies concepts already being taught.
- Re-frame, AK EnergySmart to target lessons and specific aspects of existing materialsthat touch upon arts, social sciences and even vocational education. This approach couldgenerate interest and make initial teacher outreach easier.
- Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Alaska is a rare bright spot on the landscapeand worth consideration in this context of overlooked classrooms worthy of greateroutreach.
- High School Graduation Rate in Alaska – 74%
- 47th in the Nation
- Graduation Rate amongst Alaskan CTE students – 97%
Alaska, along with other school districts throughout the nation, is making a determined push toward expanding the reach of CTE coursework. 11 REAP staff have capitalized on this trend by participating in curriculum development sessions at the vocational magnet school, King Tech High School in Anchorage. Community members, construction contractors, administrators and educators have all demonstrated an interest in finding ways to incorporate energy literacy coursework within King Tech’s (Anchorage School District’s full time vocational high school) career oriented classes such as Construction Electricity and Natural Resource Development.
Current energy literacy outreach and awareness efforts are typically limited to individuals within the school system – less emphasis has been placed on community outreach. It is also worth revisiting the who and how behind outreach efforts since the request for permission to come into a classroom precedes any successful lesson.
- Outreach avenues worth exploring include school boards, community councils, parent teacher associations, tribal and village Councils, village elders, teacher unions, local and state politicians who have shown an interest in education issues, student newspapers, high school sporting events, and other settings where students congregate such as ferries of theAlaska Marine Highway System. Outreach might be as simple as a flyer or email.
Along with a comprehensive outreach and awareness strategy for energy literacy efforts, there is not currently a process in which Alaskan energy educators can map and track the efficacy of their outreach efforts. 19
- Tracking and mapping data regarding energy educator outreach efforts by: grade level, teacher subject area expertise, manner of contact (phone, email, in-person), region/school district, semester timing, administrator title, community member, etc., might provide new guiding insights.