Out of the Classroom and Into the Field: Renewable Energy at the BioHaus

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by Ashley Stucky • June 2011
Type: 
CERTs
Waldsee BioHaus Environmental Learning Center at the Concordia Language Villages’ German Camp

Concordia Language Villages (CLV) is widely known for providing students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in a different language and culture. Whether it’s German, Italian, Chinese, Swedish, Spanish or Russian, CLV offers a fully-loaded educational experience while nestled in the northwoods of Minnesota. But that’s not all that CLV offers. Embedded in the German part of the camp is the Waldsee BioHaus with an important lesson in energy efficiency.

Within the German Language Village, the BioHaus, a certified passivehaus, serves as both residence and environmental learning center, in which villagers witness and test first-hand how much they can reduce their carbon footprints with renewable energy sources. With the majority of Concordia’s camp programs set for summer Edwin Dehler-Seter (Environmental Education and Natural Resource Specialist) and Martin Graefe (Director of Year-Round Programs) came up with the idea of offering the BioHaus as a supplement to science class curriculums during the school year for middle school classes in the NW Minnesota region.

Over the past two years, during which Concordia Language Villages has received funds from the NW CERT, 12 teachers from 11 different schools and 265 middle school and high school science students participated in the BioHaus science programs. Edwin and Martin applied for what would be their second grant from the Northwest CERT in October 2009. They planned to create a mailing list by which to contact middle school science teachers and invite them to a workshop day at the BioHaus. That way, the teachers could see and experience the structures and activities, and choose what to incorporate into a field trip with their students. Martin and Edwin put together a workshop that would show not only what the BioHaus could offer middle school students, but also how teachers could incorporate the BioHaus field trip into their lessons back in the classroom.

The first workshop, conducted in May 2010, was a learning experience for both the teachers and Martin and Edwin, yielding an unexpectedly low attendance of only three teachers of the six who had expressed interest initially. Martin explains that it has been somewhat difficult to relay the purpose and learning opportunities of the BioHaus.

It had proved challenging to get the word out about an energy efficiency learning program for whole middle school classes, when CLV is so strongly known for language and cultural programs. They decided, therefore, to conduct a second workshop in September 2010, which brought two more teachers. Because of the growing interest at the end of the calendar year, Edwin and Martin held another teacher workshop in the spring of 2011 for two additional teachers who then brought 49 students to the program.

During these workshops, teachers were introduced to the renewable energy system models that the BioHaus features, such as solar, wind, and geothermal. According to Edwin, teachers get a much better feel for what the BioHaus is about and how it can supplement their classroom lessons by experiencing its features for themselves.

The field trips with the middle school students took place near the end of the fall in 2010. In less than a month, the program brought 110 students to the BioHaus. Students’ activities included getting a feel for how much of their own power it takes to run small household appliances by pedaling on a human-powered generator. Students also built their own small-scale wind turbines, adjusting their models for maximum output. They experimented with different blade designs, altering the size, shape, pitch, and materials used. Groups then competed to see which design was most efficient by testing the turbines in front of a fan. One goal for this and other activities is to have students think through the processes of creating efficient systems with multiple variables to manipulate. Participatory learning gives students a whole new experience around energy.

Martin reports that the students responded very positively to their experiences. Teachers noted elevated levels of student enthusiasm that carried back into the classroom afterward. Not only do students better understand the concepts introduced to them through the BioHaus’s models, but they get to see renewable energy on an applicable scale.

“Being able to do something hands-on helps students get a different perspective,” says Martin, adding that a number of teachers have expressed interest in returning with their classes. Several more field trips have since been conducted this spring 2011.

In order to more effectively spread the message of their program, Edwin and Martin have toyed with the idea of creating a smaller, transportable version of the program to take to schools. This is both to generate interest in the BioHaus and to take their teachings to
classrooms that may not have the means to visit for themselves. Edwin is also interested in partnering with organizations that could provide transportation to and from the site. This may be the next big step for the program, but for now Edwin and Martin are working hard with teachers to bring more students to the BioHaus. While the BioHaus is mainly used in summer for CLV’s language programs, Martin and Edwin’s efforts have ensured that it can continue spreading its teachings throughout the year for many years to come.

Project Snapshot

  • Purpose: Engaging middle school teachers and students in hands-on activities with renewable energy
  • Project: Workshops with middle school teachers about incorporating energy efficiency and sustainable lessons into curriculum; field trips for the workshop participants’ classes to the BioHaus
  • Grant: $5,000 NW CERT Grant
  • Total Cost: $7,130
  • Benefits: Students witness first-hand the efficiency of sustainable energy systems; Teachers can supplement classroom topics with real examples from BioHaus

For more information, email Edwin at dehler@cord.edu or call Concordia Language Villages at 218‐586‐8600.

May be of interest to the following communities

Minnesotans building a clean energy future

         

    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission