Backus

New K-8 curriculum shines light on solar energy

RREAL builds on Solar for Schools efforts

Knowledge is Power

 

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) based in Central Minnesota recently published a comprehensive and adaptable solar energy curriculum that they are now working to distribute to educators and schools across Minnesota and beyond.

“Educating students about renewable energy is invaluable in creating a green energy future for Minnesota,” said Martha Risedorf, lead curriculum developer with RREAL and Minnesota GreenCorps member. “It is powerful to know that there is a clean, renewable way forward in energy production, and I think children today realize the strength in that message,” she continued. The new curriculum underscores how both knowledge and solar energy are powerful tools that educators and schools can use to inspire future generations.

 

Educating students about renewable energy is invaluable in creating a green energy future for Minnesota.

Martha Risedorf, Minnesota GreenCorps Member, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance

The Power of Education

Across Minnesota, a growing number of school districts are investing in solar energy. But how can schools connect these investments to the classroom and provide hands-on opportunities for students to learn more about this technology?

A newly published K-8 Solar Curriculum from the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) is helping connect these dots with materials that introduce students from kindergarten through 8th grade to a wide array of concepts and activities related to solar energy.

“Educating students about renewable energy is invaluable in creating a green energy future for Minnesota,” said Martha Risedorf, Minnesota GreenCorps member working with RREAL and lead developer of the solar curriculum project.

 

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Photo: Pine-River Backus Schools students play near solar panels during after school program | Credit: Rural Renewable Energy Alliance

A trusted source

If any grassroots organization in Minnesota was poised to develop an accessible solar energy curriculum for educators and students grounded in both science and practice, it would be RREAL.

Based in Backus, RREAL has provided solar energy assistance to low-income families and communities for over two decades. The nonprofit also offers internships, hands-on training, and workshops for people of all ages to learn about solar energy. In 2019, RREAL received a Bush Prize for Community Innovation to advance its mission to end energy poverty and increase access to solar energy in rural communities.

In recent years, RREAL has also installed 1.5 megawatts of solar capacity at three area schools in Central Minnesota. One of these projects in partnership with the Pine River-Backus School District and Region 5 Development Commission was featured in the Power of Minnesota, a powerful documentary series that CERTs helped produce to tell the stories of people and communities who are building a clean energy economy across Minnesota.

 

Building on this foundation and its expertise, RREAL set out to create a curriculum with lessons and activities that would provide students with ways to “gain a comprehensive knowledge of solar technology and renewable energy careers, as well as ideas about how they can get involved in their local clean energy economy.” RREAL’s track record working on solar energy shines in the recently released curriculum, created to inspire young people to engage in clean energy.

Project team members included GreenCorps Member Martha Risedorf (pictured here) and former RREAL staffers Erica Bjelland and Rachel Juritsch. Minnesota GreenCorps, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, and a Central CERT Seed Grant provided support during curriculum development.

Related: Minnesota GreenCorps is accepting applications for host sites through March 16, 2021 for organizations across the state that would like to add capacity and provide career opportunities for awesome people like Martha!

It is powerful to know that there is a clean, renewable way forward in energy production, and I think children today realize the strength in that message.

Martha Risedorf, Minnesota GreenCorps Member, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance
 

Adaptable materials for educators and students

Materials and activities in the RREAL curriculum range from learning about the components of different solar systems to electricity modeling using Python computer programming.

There are materials that cover a single topic during one day’s session—such as how solar energy travels from a solar array to a school through the grid—and materials with more complex multi-part units and hands-on activities. Designed to meet National New Generation Science Standards with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, the curriculum is both comprehensive and rigorous, while remaining adaptable and accessible across different ages and contexts.

With the recent release of its free curriculum online, RREAL is now working to distribute the project’s materials to schools, teachers and other educators.

We are hearing a lot of requests for clean energy curriculum and teaching tools from schools across Minnesota, so it’s great that I can now direct these educators to RREAL’s curriculum.

Peter Lindstrom, CERTs manager of public sector and community engagement

While RREAL worked with several educators and partners to field test curriculum materials as they were developed, the organization hopes to continue seeking input on the curriculum and to track how its materials are used and adapted in the classroom.

“We are hearing a lot of requests for clean energy curriculum and teaching tools from more schools we have worked with across the state, so being able to direct educators to RREAL’s new curriculum is a great resource,” said Peter Lindstrom, CERTs Manager of Public Sector and Community Engagement who leads the CERTs Solar Schools program.

In addition to the resources RREAL now provides, Lindstrom noted that curriculum from Climate Generation, based in Minneapolis, and a national inventory of solar energy curricula from Generation 180 provide additional tools for teachers, students, and schools interested in exploring renewable energy in the classroom.

With interest in clean energy growing among students and teachers alike, demand for new and engaging approaches that spark curiosity and problem-solving skills among future generations is likely here to stay. RREAL hopes its curriculum will help meet this need, emphasizing that “knowledge is power.”

“It is powerful to know that there is a clean, renewable way forward in energy production, and I think children today realize the strength in that message,” Risedorf said.

Project Snapshot

 
  • Activity: Solar PV school curriculum
  • Central CERT Seed Grant: $3,000
  • Total Project Cost: $22,000
  • Other Funds: Minnesota GreenCorp Member time; Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships 
  • Project Team: John Vaughn, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance; Martha Risedorf, MN GreenCorps; Erica Bjelland and Rachel Juritsch, Formerly with Rural Renewable Energy Alliance.
  • People Involved and Reached: 1,325
 
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