Hartley’s Energy Explosion: A Moving Energy Education


by Christina Eschbach - June 2011
Energy Explosion solar panel with bike generator

Part of the challenge of teaching is getting students involved and excited about the material they are learning. As science, and especially learning about alternative energy sources becomes more important in today’s world, it is more vital than ever that students are learning about renewable energy sources. That’s where Energy Explosion comes in.

Energy Explosion began in the 2008-2009 school year as a pilot program at Hartley Nature Center in Duluth to effectively address state educational standards for late elementary, middle school, and high school-aged students through an assortment of renewable energy demonstrations. Hartley Nature Center offers a variety of field trip opportunities for surrounding schools. The Energy Explosion is a special hands-on and exciting presentation about energy.

Energy Explosion demonstrations are also made mobile by an energy education trailer named “Electron.” Demonstrations include student volunteers playing musical instruments such as an electric guitar with an amp and an electric keyboard powered by a photovoltaic (PV) solar array, a biodiesel generator, a small 400 Watt wind turbine, and an energy bike powered by one of their peers.

The mobile unit was the project’s oversight leader, Pete Gravett’s, idea. “The mobility piece was a solution to address the fragmented daily rotation of subjects in middle schools that makes field trips to Hartley logistically difficult,” says Pete. “It’s an effective way to overcome a common problem with these unique educational opportunities.”

After their first successful run, Pete wanted to create an operation manual for outside contractors for the contractors to learn the setup and take down procedures; update the lesson plan; and compile a handy FAQ for when common questions arise. The redesign also incorporated more graphic elements to accompany the demos to literally illustrate the concepts better.

At an Energy Explosion demonstration, the instructor talks about how renewable energy sources power the instruments, how much energy is generated by the sources, and the importance of alternative sources of energy on our environment and in communities. The Hartley Nature Center’s goal is not only teaching the current (and future) energy consumers about renewable energy sources but teaching about conservation.

This innovative, engaging project is part of Hartley Nature Center’s curriculum program as an outreach to schools throughout northeast Minnesota, such as Two Harbors High School in Two Harbors, Minnesota and the Harvest Festival Energy Fair that was held in Duluth in September 2010.

Energy Explosion wants to expand beyond the northeastern parts of Minnesota and make this a state-wide program to teach all students about how renewable energy works, the benefits, and stress the need to lessen dependence on fossil fuels, become energy independent, and teach about conservation. With energy all around us, there’s a lesson to be learned at every corner. The Energy Explosion is just the right vehicle to take us all there!

For more information, email Brett Amundson at the Hartley Nature Center at bamundson@hartleynature.org or call 218-724-6735. To learn more about Hartley Nature Center, visit their website at http://www.hartleynature.org.

Project Snapshot:

  • Purpose: Energy Explosion on the Move, a traveling interactive curriculum on alternative energy generation, geared towards 5th and 6th graders
  • Community Impacted: Over 2,000 participants (Lake Harbors High School and HarvestFest Energy Fair) between 2010-11.
  • Grant: $1,265 Northeast CERT grant
  • Benefits: Greater access to energy education, an engaging and thoughtful way to demonstrate the value of alternative energy systems

May be of interest to the following communities

Minnesotans building a clean energy future


    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission