Targeted at eighth-grade science students, this unit has grown from our recognition that all citizens must have sufficient scientific and technological literacy to make wise decisions related to the energy they use in their lives. The unit includes both basic science fundamentals and engineering problem solving skills that build towards the students' culminating project where they identify and solve an energy-related problem in their own lives. The Energy Systems and Solutions unit follows a widely accepted problem solving method that is based on the fundamental process used by practicing engineers. Students start by defining their problem, brainstorming and exploring potential solutions, test and evaluate their ideas, and ultimately choose the optimum solution which they then implement. The final stage is communication of their results, a skill that is of ultimate importance.
Our current energy crisis is introduced to students in the Energy Systems and Solutions unit through an award-winning and patent-pending Energy Choices Board Game. The game helps students engage in the topic and importance of energy and understand that choices they make throughout their lives (e.g. mode of transportation, size and type of house, entertainment systems, integration of a renewable energy supply at their home) can affect their energy expenses and the supply of non-renewable energy available. Running out of money or gasoline is a real possibility in this game.
Aspects of this unit and its assessment have been included in several publications and has been integrated into a STEM Partnership Energy Institute for middle and high school teachers.