Getting Energized about Energy

Welcome back to the Get Real! Science blog! Chelsea here telling you all about how the first week has kicked off. We’re back in school for the summer and ready to get energized about learning about energy. Half of us (myself, Paige, and Christa) will be finishing up this summer, while half of us (Mike, Heather, and James) have just joined the program and are eager to learn the ins and outs of what it is the program is all about.

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Back to the point about getting energized: what are all of the things we can do with energy? In consideration of sustainability, the number of things we can do challenge our thinking to a new level and require a strong foundation in the understanding of conserving and transforming energy into a utilizable source. But consider the above to definitions of the word “energize” – one of these definitions calls for “giving vitality and enthusiasm to,” while the other calls for “supply energy, typically kinetic or electrical energy to (something).” Our goal is to exploit both these definitions in our undertaking of better understanding energy as the recurring theme (and certainly a cross cutting theme) throughout our program: we want to be invigorated and enthusiastic about learning and teaching energy, and about how things get energized.

See here how energized about energy Bill Nye is.


On Thursday, we explored cars that could be run on solar power. Each group (Group 1: Christa, James, and Heather, Group 2: Chelsea and Mike) was tasked “simply” with trying to get the car to move. We were also tasked with making a model of what science was going on inside of the solar panel. The making of models is a huge step in “Exposing students to situations where they use scientific evidence to make informed personal decisions and grapple with societal and global issues, [which] helps them develop the critical thinking skills needed for success in the 21st century” (Wilmes and Howarth 26).

Being able to put something in a model allows one to understand the material in deeper depth, and to be able to “help make content and thinking about content visible” (GRS 1).

I of course failed to take pictures of these models (huge fault in communicating ideas, shame on me), but this video does a lot of well-done explaining of how solar panels work (isn’t the Internet phenomenal? #technology). We went outside to find the Sun behind a massive blockage of clouds, and so working outside to try and get the cars to move didn’t go so well. We came inside to try and power the cars on light energy – group 1 had a really nice fluorescent bulb while group 2 was given a seemingly powerless flashlight. The fluorescent bulb easily moved the solar car when it was running strictly on energy, but it did not store any of the solar energy in the capacitor, as questioned by group 2 when they got to test this hypothesis. We are still wondering why, our strongest theory being that it needs a lot more time exposure to store any charge that will make the car actually move from stored up energy. Our exploration with the cars went on for a significant amount of time (probably about an hour and a half) and it was a great amount of fun and so awesome to really be a scientist during class. As we continue to learn more about sustainability efforts, I am looking forward to doing more of these exploratory experiences.


As we continue to learn more about energy, some of us will be considering how we can apply this to STARS, while others will act as support roles to get them to thinking about different roads their plans for STARS can go down. I think a really big challenge is that much of the cohort are Earth scientists (click here for my feelings about being the only physicist [I don’t actually feel this poorly 🙂 ] ), and so they will be challenged with coming up with ways to make energy a cross cutting theme for students and an entire project for STARS. I think, however, that all of them are certainly up for the challenge. I’m excited to see where the projects end up leading, and definitely how much exploration they end up doing, exactly like what Andrea had set up for us on Thursday.

To conclude: here’s a great picture of Christa on Tuesday during class (I think she’s still a little salty about classes starting again [read: she’s a crazy cat lady who’d rather be at home playing with Bellatrix than actually do anything]). She also may have just been reading 🙂


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