WTHS Students Engage in Energy Debates

WTHS Students Engage in Energy Debates
Posted on 10/31/2016
WTHS Debateby Valerija Zienty, Engineering Teacher & 2016 WTHS Teacher of the Year 

In the fall of 2016, my students were caught up in the presidential election, and I began to wonder how I might incorporate this political drama in my pre-engineering classroom. I remembered the article from The Science Teacher (March 2015), where physics teacher created a yearlong project based on the book Physics for Future Presidents (Muller 2008). The project integrated energy, literacy, and public policy. I didn’t have an entire year, but only two weeks. That is why we concentrated on Energy part of Muller’s book. The book, and the project, addressed misconceptions about renewable and non-renewable sources of energy, global warming, and electric cars. I desperately wanted my students to not only understand energy, but also to individual thinkers who ask questions, investigate problems, and form solutions.

First part of the project required students to create a written report and a presentation on a specific energy source. Each group presented their assigned energy topic, while students in the audience filled out a compare and contrast chart about the different energy sources.
Second part of the project required students to write a letter to any policy-maker. Students had to research their policy-maker’s position on energy policy and then compose a letter to him/her evaluating his/her stance and whether they agree or disagreed with it. Students had to provide scientific evidence to show why they encouraged the use of some energy sources over others. We mailed the letters after several revisions, and even received a letter back from some of the policy-makers.

Finally, students participated in the Energy and Oil “presidential” debate moderated by Senator Mathias and Board Member Mr. Gordy. During the debated students we asked questions like: “Before 2009, there were, on average, two earthquakes a year in Oklahoma that were magnitude 3 or greater. Last year, there were 907. How do you balance out the economic benefit of the gas and oil industry and the public safety?” Students again had to defend their opinion based on the scientific evidence. Winners of the debate were awarded a trip MD General assembly generously donated by Senator Mathias and Lions Club.