FLATE Energy Camp Sparks Students’ Interest in Alternative & Renewable Energy Technologies

Summer is the time for fun and exploration. This summer at the energy camp, hosted by FLATE at Hillsborough Community College’s South Shore campus, middle school students did their own exploration of alternative and renewable energy sources and the various technologies involved in conserving renewable energy resources. “This camp is not like the other camps that I’ve been to where you just sit and see stuff” said Katherine Olivares an eighth grader from Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, FL.

Indeed FLATE’s summer energy camps have served as a great tool in helping students like Olivares make
real-life connections with the world of energy. Participating students are currently enrolled in Hillsborough County’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, with many being first generation, college-bound students. The four-day camp which is in its fifth year of operation is made possible through a partnership between the Hillsborough County School District, FLATE, and Hillsborough Community College (HCC).

What made the camp an exceptionally fun experience were the hands-on exercises that challenged students to think out of the box. Students learned about hydroelectric power, solar and wind energy, fossil fuels and hydrogen fueled cars through various activities that were geared to stir their curiosity and interest in key, energy related concepts and topics. “I liked learning about different forms of energy and how we can use them in the future” said Abraham Rodriguez, an 8th grader at Turkey Creek Middle School who aspires to become a nuclear engineer someday.

The camp also afforded students opportunities to hone and develop their team work skills—skills identified as valuable 
assets in the workplace. Among all the challenges, the ‘solar cooker activity’ was a crowd favorite, as students got to design their own cooker to make s’mores! Working in groups of four and applying the concepts learned during the camp, students designed and built their own solar powered cooker out of a cardboard box. Klarissa Perez, a seventh grade student at Beth Shields Middle School wrapped her cooker in saran wrap so the heat would be trapped and evenly distributed. Abraham and his team came up with an equally neat idea to line the insides of the cooker with aluminum, and paint the outside in black so it can to absorb more heat.

The solar cooker was just one of many experiments, but what the students did and learned was remarkably
ingenious as they were able to connect theoretical concepts and apply them in real-world settings. “They need to hear and learn about things in different ways” said Sevi Ball, AVID Coordinator at Beth Shields Middle School. Ball noted what they do at the camp not only reinforces what some have already learned in class, but prepares them for a possible future career in a related field. She said the camp adds to students’ confidence, in that, students who have previously attended the energy camp have a lot more confidence and during the regular academic year have taken on leadership roles in school.

Students also added to their pool of knowledge during their field trip to TECO Energy where they saw first-hand, energy generation and conservation at work. During the tour students got to see turbines, generators and transformers used in industrial settings to power up homes throughout Tampa Bay. “I learned many new things” said Katherine Olivares, who stated the tour also expanded her knowledge about jobs in the energy industry.

Another exciting opportunity for the students was the “Green” tour of HCC’s South Shore Campus. Dr. Allen
Witt, campus president took students on a guided tour of HCC’s LEED Gold certified campus which is also the first entirely green campus in Florida! Students toured HCC’s state of the art biology lab where they got a first-hand view of the measures taken by HCC to “cut the carbon footprint” of the building. “We want this to be a life-changing experience for these students” said Dr. Witt. During the tour, he showed students various measures the college has/is taking towards energy savings and conservation. Some of these included getting a charging station for electric powered vehicles, clothes recycling bins, designing an effective irrigation system for cooling such as jungle canopies over walkways and spray fountains to maximize air circulation and cooling, and  installing water filtration systems to eliminate use of plastic bottles. Other measures included integration of under-floor air in the building, and high ceilings, east-west alignment, large windows to allow natural/ambient lighting to minimize use of electricity from the grid. “I hope the tour will inspire these students to aspire for higher goals and ambitions” Dr. Witt said.

…And inspire it did. “I like the biology lab because I am interested in science” said Daniel, seventh grader at
Marshall Middle School in Plant City, FL. Abraham also loved the campus tour and looks forward to attending HCC’s South Shore campus “probably in the next 4-5 years.”  The energy camp has undoubtedly had tremendous impact on students and teachers alike. Over the years the camp has grown in the number of offerings to include students from four schools this year, with Marshall Middle School being the newest addition. 2015 also witnessed the highest attendance ever, with overwhelming positive feedback from teachers and students alike. Results from the tour are being tabulated by FLATE and will be shared in a subsequent edition of the FLATE Focus, or will be posted on our website. You can stay in the loop about FLATE’s energy camps by contacting Nina Stokes, project manager at stokes@fl-ate.org and 813.259.6587. For information on FLATE’s STEM and robotics based resources for middle and high school students visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org, or contact Executive Director of FLATE, Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.