The National Energy Education Development Project Talks about STEM Programs in the USA and How ECN Shake Flashlights Provide Learning Opportunities
EcocentricNow LLC is proud to partner with the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED) to strengthen its hands-on STEM experiences and curriculum. NEED Project Stem Education trains and assists teachers across the country in harnessing the energy of the classroom – or the energy of students, as they prefer to say.
ECN staff recently had the pleasure of interviewing NEED representative, Emily Hawbaker, on the importance of STEM education, the trajectory of STEM programs, and how ECN’s innovative shake flashlight technology has been an asset to their national project. Let’s dive in!
Q: Why do you feel STEM education is important?
A: People tend to use STEM as a buzzword to emphasize where they believe our educational focus should lie as if it’s some specialized topic that’s new to teachers and students. However, STEM education is nothing new – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has been involved in many schools for a long time, and STEM is pervasive – Science is everywhere we look – it’s part of making observations and keeping track of what we know works and doesn’t work.
Technology is continuously expanding into every aspect of our lives. Engineering is involved in very technical things, but also in the simplest of things, for example: “how can I load the dishwasher so that my plates get cleaner?”; or “how do I finagle this charging cord that’s nearing the end of its life to ensure it will charge my device?”.
Mathematics is in every occupation, every activity we do in our lives. Jobs of the future will focus more on STEM disciplines. As our society advances and tackles the many economic, social, and political changes we face, innovation and critical thinking are necessary. Science literacy and STEM foundations must continue to be emphasized in schools so that students of today can help us to meet the needs of our world going forward.
Q: Where do you see the future of STEM education heading and how can STEM be improved?
A: I think some of what I’d love to see is already happening – STEM education is not only being prioritized in context with language arts skills, but STEM is becoming more inclusive of students of ALL backgrounds. It’s important for students and adults to see there is room for everyone in STEM disciplines and to take strides to ensure individuals have access to STEM education and the job opportunities on the horizon.
Q: What type of institutions or programs do you partner with?
A: NEED Project Stem Education instructor’s partner with dozens of organizations each year. Our Executive Director’s 2021 annual report provides insight into the range of organizations we support.
We are fortunate to have sponsors and partners that provide the resources and the opportunities for us to stretch and expand NEED’s capabilities. From supporting the Exelon Foundation STEM Leadership Academy for young women to designing Career and Technology Education curriculum and training in wind and hydropower for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. NEED has had the opportunity to make a lasting impact on workforce development efforts in many areas of the energy industry. We’re working every day to do more. Investing in NEED programs and students means that tomorrow’s workforce will have the skills and knowledge to do great things in energy. NEED programming teaches kids about energy, but it also allows them to gain the workforce and leadership skills necessary in their future careers.
Our students in the Pacific Gas & Electric Internship program learn about energy and work with their PG&E mentors to understand how the company generates and delivers electric power and gas to consumers across California. In Illinois, ComEd’s Create a Spark program engages high school students who work through engineering challenges with a ComEd mentor. Our Prince George’s County Summer Youth Employment Program hosted 500 students daily in July as they completed a series of energy and engineering challenges with a talented team of NEED’s teacher mentors.
Our East Kentucky Power Cooperative summer camp brought students together for three days of engaging energy camp. In Kentucky, we tackled the issue of energy burden on families with the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy in a project-based learning program designed to help students reduce energy costs in their homes. In Mississippi, we brought STEM students together with the Mississippi Development Authority – Energy Division to learn more about energy and energy careers in their state. At the college level, Exelon STEM Leadership Academy Scholarship and ComEd Future of Energy Scholarship recipients work with company mentors to think about their future in energy careers while completing company internships.
It has been extraordinary to launch so many scholarship and mentorship programs for our partners, knowing how important these programs are for students. Our curriculum team delivered several new modules over the past year including four levels of Offshore Wind thanks to support from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation. The curriculum aligns nicely to Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project underway off Virginia Beach.
Thanks to the support of the U.S. Department of Interior – Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory there’s a new curriculum module on floating offshore wind as well. Teachers and students looking for lessons about the connections between energy, climate and health will find great value in the Rhode Island Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council supported Energy, Climate and You curriculum.
Q: What features of our shake flashlight are most beneficial to your STEM program?
A: The Shake Light 40B flashlight is part of NEED Project Stem Education cornerstone curriculum, Science of Energy. In this unit, students explore the concept that energy is never created or destroyed; it’s always changing forms. This principle allows us to turn crude oil into motion in a car and move air into electricity. The shake flashlight is instrumental in this unit to help demonstrate very visually how these energy transformations take place.
The flashlight’s features are all helpful in showcasing these transformations: the translucent cover allows students to see the working parts, the rechargeable NiMH battery allows students to see how energy can be stored through motion, and the moving magnet with stationary coil are able to visually demonstrate electromagnetism – a very challenging concept for some students!
Q: How have you integrated hands-on learning with ECN products into your lessons?
A: In addition to the hand-generated flashlight, ECN is our only supplier of batteries – and we use a lot of batteries. ECN provides 9-volt, D, AA, and AAA batteries for our kits. Since this started a few years ago, we’ve noticed the batteries supplied last much longer than the ones we used to use from elsewhere. Students use these to explore electromagnetism, create circuits, build microgrid models, power motors, and more!
Q: What additional products would benefit your organization’s support of STEM education?
A: NEED Project Stem Education are currently exploring additional solar items, as well as a solar-charged flashlight. There are always changes and upgrades to our kits for which ECN might provide solutions in the future. Do you periodically view the ECN website to see if our other merchandise is of benefit to your company? Not all that frequently, however, our representative, Todd, does an excellent job of keeping us informed of products, and learning about what we need, what we’re changing or considering changing, or could use help sourcing.
Q: What do you like about purchasing STEM merchandise from EcoCentricNow?
A: My first major project at NEED 10 years ago was finding a replacement for our old flashlight – a hand-generated model that cranked but was not very functional. ECN helped us every step of the way to learn what was valuable in the final product and why it was important educationally. Rather than just selling us something that would work to some degree, they really seemed to value and support us in creating a product that would enhance student learning, while creating a product that was still functional, durable, and scalable.
The Shake Light 40B flashlight is SO well received by teachers and students. ECN always helps us to anticipate any supplier and supply chain challenges, as well as sourcing from USA manufacturers when possible. This communication and emphasis on being helpful is not something we see from all our vendors, and it certainly keeps us coming back to ECN.
Q: How can our service be improved?
A: I have had a VERY delightful interaction on the whole with ECN over my past 10 years at NEED. For additional feedback, I might suggest contacting Bonny Spruill, NEED’S warehouse and fulfillment expert. Although, I’m fairly certain she will also provide a glowing review!
Thank you, Emily, and NEED for your feedback, patronage, and support.
You’re doing great things for STEM education!