Alternative Energy: It’s Hot!

What would a greener Florida look like? As the state grapples to position itself as a leader in the development and production of alternative energy technologies, local organizations like FLATE are stepping up education and workforce development efforts to help meet Florida’s 2020 energy strategy (More information at FESC). This summer FLATE held, for the first time, energy camps for teachers and students. The camps were held June 20-23 at the South Shore Campus of Hillsborough Community College, and involved 14 students from Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, and 17 high school teachers from 12 schools in Hillsborough County, FL.

The energy camp for students, a pilot project funded by the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, was funded through FLATE and FESC (Florida Energy Systems Consortium) a consortium of Florida college and universities established by the Florida Legislature, and was part of a network of energy-related camps that are being offered simultaneously at Tallahassee Community College, and Florida State College at Jacksonville. The camp featured a number of hands-on activities that included: greenhouse gas simulation exercises; demonstrations of Jensen electric generator; photovoltaic, magnets/magnetic fields demonstrations, and demonstrations of wind and fuel cell car technologies. Emely Ramirez and Brian Sanchez, seventh graders at Beth Shields Middle School said the activities were “fun and cool, yet challenging.” Other hands-on activities included constructing a simple motor, a windmill generator, and conducting a test run baking cookies using a solar oven.

Campers also received an overview of fossil fuels, its impact on the environment, were introduced to the science of electricity generation, and learned about solar, thermal, wind, ocean energies, fuel cells and home efficiency. Andrea Hemphil, middle school science teacher in Sarasota County, FL described the experience as a good blend of exposure to alternative energy. “They did through their everyday exercises/lessons what scientists do every single day in the lab.” Hemphill hopes the exposure will get them excited about the possibilities that college education can offer, and encourage them to “work in fields that are related to alternative/renewable energy technologies.”

The energy camp for teachers was a 15 contact hour in-service professional development workshop focused on STEM curriculum and problem based learning applied in the context of alternative energy. Dr. Marie Boyette, associate director of FLATE, described the camp as an effective resource for teachers to add to their teaching tool kit. Boyette, who has been a leading force in initiating the teacher camps since 2010 said the “teachers had fun learning how to effectively integrate STEM concepts into the everyday curriculum, all the while exploring how to use educational technologies in developing usable STEM lesson plans that would enable participants to become practitioners of problem-based/experiential learning.”

The camp was a rich storehouse of information/resources that teachers could take back to the classroom. Exercises included current technology applications for teaching energy-related curriculum, exploration and observation of LEED and solar roof applications, and other hands-on, experiential activities such as the potential and kinetic energy lessons using a solar powered grasshopper. Dennis Vallianatos, who teachers physical science, earth space and general chemistry at Lennard High School and Marcus Beard, Chemistry Honors and Physical Science teacher at East Bay High School described the camp as a good fit, as the content correlated to several parts of the course they were going to teach in the next academic year. Vallianatos and Beard agree teachers “need these kind of opportunities so we can be informed, and ensure the students we teach can stay ahead of the game.”

The three day camp also expanded participants’ understanding of energy as a manufactured product through fun, hands-on STEM centered activities that encouraged exploration of new technology applications. Participants got the opportunity to add resources/content developed by engineers and curriculum/instruction experts to their teaching toolbox, engaged in a grant writing workshop as well as soft skill building activities, and witnessed first-hand, alternative technology at work via a tour of TECO’s Manatee viewing center. To that effect, Valliantos commended the camps role in bringing alternative energy into the classroom. “It’s all about the hard bills” he said. “If we can make students understand they can earn more money doing these kinds of jobs it is going to fire up their interest/desire to pursue a track in high-tech fields.”

The FLATE-FESC partnership is part of a statewide initiative to support industries in the existing and emerging energy sectors by defining the knowledge and skills required for their technician workforce. Since 2009, FLATE has been working with community colleges across Florida to define curriculum standards for alternative energy that support industry needs. “Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE hopes “with the industry support of the FESC Advisory Committee and their community outreach programs for energy efficiency, FLATE’s partnerships with the Florida Department of Education, and the Banner Centers for Energy, Alternative Energy, Manufacturing and Construction we hope to build a comprehensive and cohesive educational and industry pathway for Florida’s new energy workforce.”

For information on FESC initiatives, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at 813.259.6578/ For information about FLATE’s energy camp, contact Jorge Monreal at 813.259.6587/ For information on FLATE’s professional development opportunities for teachers, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at 813.259.6578/ or Dr. Marie Boyette at

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