Currently, all 9
graders enrolled in the New Haven Public Schools take a course called physic/chemistry (phy/chem), as their science requirement. Its curriculum is designed to tie together their last 5 years of science education, while preparing them for the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT). Phy/Chem stresses general knowledge of energy, energy flow, simple physics, and basic chemistry focusing on atomic structure, all the while stressing scientific inquiry and the application of the scientific method.
The last three units of phy/chem develop the ideas of how energy is used, how electricity is made, and the environmental impacts of our energy use. The students currently enrolled in New Haven Public Schools need to have a very vested interest in energy and its environmental impacts as they are seemingly inheriting the problems of previous generations' unsustainable use of nonrenewable energy sources.
The average 9
grader in New Haven faces overcoming a large disconnection with this material. Up until this point in the curriculum, the concepts are mostly concrete, and hands on activities can at least model and demonstrate most concepts, while laboratory activities that solidify the scientific method, offer extensions of hypotheses made by students. When the curriculum lands on energy, however, it all becomes lost with concepts that are to big for the students to relate to or affect them in their daily lives.
Electricity, and its use, is of particular difficulty. There are endless demonstrations up to and including shocking students with a small converter to making small machines, but crucial to this unit is that students understand how electricity is created. Since, in the United States and other developed nations, electricity dominates as the most frequent form of usable energy, and most of our fossil fuel resources are devoted to electricity generation, this unit will focus on how our electricity generation can be moved away from fossil fuel or at least supplemented by renewable energy.
In order to make the content of this unit available to students in New Haven, it will be necessary to bridge the ideas of renewable energy to residents of Connecticut. The idea of a wind farm in Texas is not relevant to the average 15 year old in New Haven. But analyzing the energy use of a New Haven resident compared to the rest of the citizens of the world, or investigating the feasibility of a wind farm in Long Island Sound, brings this topic to a practical level. Currently, most of our energy use is in the form of electricity, and more than half of our electricity is generated by coal. This is an unsustainable practice. In this unit, students will investigate different forms of renewable energy, and their practicality in Southern New England.