Educating the Educator on Alternative Energy Technologies

FLATE’s Annual Teachers Camp centers on energy production from traditional and renewable sources and technologies. “One of the biggest issues we are facing currently is climate change” pointed Susan Schleith, energy education coordinator for the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) at the University of Central Florida. According to Schleith, alternative energy technologies are going to be critical in securing jobs of the future, and will also help position Florida as a viable and productive economic power, one that does not solely rely on traditional means of energy generation. Schleith echoed one of many FLATE’s objectives in offering energy-themed, educating the educator workshops that address the need for technicians in the energy industry.

The “Alternative Energy-It’s Hot” is in its seventh year of offering. Melissa Pelaez, a physical science and physics teacher at King High School in Tampa, was among the 25 teachers who attended the three-day camp. The camp was full-bodied in providing a 360 degree perspective about energy-related topics and curriculum, professional development opportunities and also free resources that educators could take back to their classroom. Some of the topics discussed included photovoltaic cells, energy efficiency in buildings, hydrogen fuel cells and how these create, according to Schleith, “really good STEM learning opportunities in the classroom” while providing a snapshot of jobs that are available in the energy sector.

During the camp, educators learned about a number of hands-on exercises and

projects that they could use as a “hook” to get students engaged in STEM and energy-related educational/career pathways. Jennifer Rooney, Physical Science and Earth Space teacher for 9-12 grades at Durant High School in Tampa really liked working with the photovoltaic kits, and was excited about the possibility of borrowing the kits to use in her classroom. Renee Olson, ESOL English teacher at Brandon High School stated that the curriculum was rigorous and tied into the common core standards that requires students to develop/use critical thinking skills. Asked how the workshop would be of value to her as a language arts teacher and to her students, Olson stated hand-on projects compels students to communicate with each other in English, thereby increasing and improving their vocabulary which could help ESOL student understand science concepts better and potentially spur interest in STEM subjects as well.

Educators also got to hear first-hand accounts from industry experts. Kathryn Wheeler, the

State Supervisor of Architecture & Construction/Energy, and Career and Technical Education at the Department of Education, provided an overview of energy curriculum frameworks. Sheila McNamara, sustainability program manager at Hillsborough Community College reviewed some of the sustainability initiatives at HCC, and Dr. Alessadro Anzalone, dean of A.S. degree programs at HCC gave educators a tour of HCC’s state-of-the-art engineering technology lab. The camp provided “insight that I can share with my students” as these are the very concepts that are going to help pave the way of the future and our economy, stated Pelaez.

To give a real-world perspective and enhance understanding of some of the concepts they had

learned during the workshop, teachers also toured the TECO Power Plant. During the tour educators learned about energy as a manufactured product, and got to see first-hand energy generation and conservation at work. They also learned how TECO has implemented green technologies and strategies to conserve energy and reduce carbon footprint. Immediately following the TECO plant tour, educators visited the brand new, state-of-the-art Education Center Building at the Manatee Viewing Center, and also toured HCC’s Southshore LEED-certified campus in Ruskin.

Through it all teachers got the opportunity to not only add resources and content to their teaching toolkit, but also expand their own knowledge base on experiential learning, integration of STEM concepts in school curriculum to emphasize the “T & E” side of STEM, and build engaging content for their students. “If we educate students about energy conservation and efficiency they are going to be better consumers too” Schleith said. Post event surveys show over 92% of the teachers stated the presentations, handout and activities during the camp were good and/or very good. Nearly 85% of those surveyed also rated the overall professional development value of the workshop as good and/or very good. 

For more information about FLATE’s energy camp visit, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at For information on the two year, A.S. degree in Alternative Energy visit, or access free energy related curriculum/resources on the FLATE Wiki.

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