High quality lessons and materials are a cornerstone to any educational endeavor. Alaska has an abundance of quality energy literacy curriculum ready for traditional classroom learning environments, including Alaska-specific clean energy lessons, modules and hands-on activities. Specific curriculum focused on wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass, energy storage and other clean energy resources can be easily accessed by clean energy educators from a variety of online sources. 

Existing Curriculum

  • Like many states, Alaska has developed a specific energy curriculum that is aligned with articulated state standards. Developed in partnership with Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Alaska Center for Energy and Power and Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP); AK EnergySmart includes a variety of grade level appropriate modules, lessons and materials that focus primarily on energy efficiency, while touching upon power generation. A first grader may learn the insulating properties of otter fur, while seniors in high school study the design of renewables within a rural Alaskan microgrid system. AKEnergySmart includes several modules that deal specifically with building science, and is flexible enough to incorporate the fast-developing world of clean energy technologies. Classroom presentations of AK EnergySmart also serve a dual purpose as energy educators are able to model the delivery of specific energy lessons to teachers – and thereby train regular classroom teachers in attendance (with Continuing Education credits available). In addition, AK EnergySmart serves as the foundational curriculum for the Power Pledge Challenge, an annual energy conservation competition amongst more than 3,000 K-12 students in Alaska, representing four different school districts that are served by six separate electric utilities.
  • The second most prevalent clean energy curriculum taught in Alaska is Wind for Schools, a program developed by the Department of Energy, and delivered by REAP via classroom visits, video-conference and teacher trainings. Hands-on curriculum includes a wind turbine design competition for students in grades 4-12 (Kid Wind). Additionally, some Alaskan schools have installed small wind turbines on-site as demonstration projects. There are currently seven turbines across the state that were installed through the Wind for Schools program from 2009 to 2011.
  • The Sustainable Energy Program at UAF Bristol Bay is able to offer Dillingham’s K-12 community a wide range of educational opportunities ranging from lessons in efficiency to small renewable energy systems; with some high school students able to earn college credit.
  • In the village of Kokahanok, Alaska, the US Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy has piloted an effort to develop a place and technology-based curriculum. Lessons are targeted toward rural Alaskan microgrid communities where the high cost of fuel is a major factor affecting quality of life. High school level lessons are designed to foster student interest in the day to day workings of the village power plant, grid, and utility office. Lessons include basic power plant operations, diesel efficiency, calculatingPower Cost Equalization (PCE) numbers, business math, basic electricity principles and meter reading.
  • Alaska Resource Education (ARE) is a nonprofit dedicated to educating Alaskan students about oil, gas, mineral and forestry resources within the state. With an emphasis on resource extraction and industry; the organization has on offer a K-8 energy literacy curriculum that incorporates lessons on energy conservation, the sun as an energy source and renewable concepts. ARE employs one full-time energy educator.
  • Beyond AK EnergySmart and Wind for Schools, there are scores of federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and individuals who have made compelling clean energy literacy content available online, often free and aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Findings & Recommendations

Finding #1:

STEM deficiencies amongst Alaska’s students hamper the impact of any well developed clean energy curriculum. Most recently the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) published Alaska’s Education Challenge Report; a series of proposals and recommendations produced by survey and stakeholder meetings that address the STEM achievement gap. Teacher retention, poverty, language and cultural barriers have long been conjectured to be root causes of the achievement gap. Based on conjecture, a myriad of strategies have been suggested to address the performance gap, the efficacy of which are unknown. 

  • There is some consensus amongst Alaskan educators regarding the need for objective analysis of the state’s educational system and performance shortfalls. Current political leadership in Alaska has ruled out the level of investment such analysis requires. Advocacy for a comprehensive, expert study seems warranted. Until then, a survey of other analyses and actions taken by states facing similar STEM achievement gaps is recommended.
Finding #2: 

Clean energy curriculum in Alaska incorporates STEM on a more conceptual basis, as opposed to the application of STEM-based computations and skills. 

  • Develop and make available clean energy problem sets to STEM classroom teachers for incorporation into established curriculum. The problem-solving, analytical and computational skills required to determine if and where Alaska clean energy projects might work could be a rich resource for exercising core STEM competencies.
Finding #3: 

Rural Alaskan students are not being reached in equal proportion to their urban or road system counterparts with clean energy curricula. This is due in part to the lack of compelling clean energy curriculum designed specifically for distance and E-learning recipients, i.e. rural school districts. 

  • In conjunction with REAP energy educators, ANEEE might invite select teachers to develop place-based clean energy classroom curricula by facilitating introductions and interviews with clean energy industry experts and field trips to clean energy projects that are positively impacting the teacher’s region.
  • The Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), in partnership with REAP, developed the Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska. Alaskan energy educators are well positioned to develop lessons that point to specific rural Alaskan renewable energy projects within this atlas. Existing online clean energy curricula might be leveraged to create innovative and enriching place based lessons that can be utilized by classroom teachers working within particular rural Alaskan regions.
  • •Explore opportunities to utilize rural school buildings as object lessons in clean energy. The fact that school buildings themselves are increasingly being built and retrofitted with clean energy technologies make energy literacy relevant and conspicuous within the daily lives of teachers and students. AHFC has recently installed an open-source internet dashboard and sensor-based building monitoring system (BMONs) throughout the school buildings in the Mat-Su Valley District. REAP and AHFC are exploring the possibility of expanding the AK EnergySmart curriculum to include BMONs as a learning tool that allows students to measure and monitor energy use within their own school building.
  • These are the sort of curricular innovations that lead to widespread engagement and encourage behavioral adaptations. 
Finding #4: 

The food security/clean energy nexus is attracting great interest in Alaska, yet there is little in the way of subject matter curricula. 

  • Recently published by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, the Biomass Greenhouse Handbook serves as a how-to guide for school districts interested in growing their own food with a biomass heat source. This guide, along with the various other solarand heat pump based greenhouse projects around the state might serve as the basis forcurriculum that is highly relevant and useful in addressing the food security/energynexus.
Finding #4: 

The ability to reach as many students as possible with hands on activities is often limited by the resources needed to deliver “kits” such as those utilized by the Wind for Schools curriculum and the heat loss/insulation lesson, Snug House, from AK EnergySmart

  • Use efforts such as assembling inventory/vendor lists and fund raising strategies to facilitate the purchase of clean energy kits might include for school districts, parent groups or other associations that might be interested in increasing their capacity to deliver clean energy lessons.