Ever wonder what Bluegrass Greensource staff are up to? Every so often, we like to provide first-person descriptions of some of the work our staff complete in the  communities we serve. This month, we hear from Olivia Oakley, an Americorps Vista who is working hard to provide energy education to Central Kentucky youth and adults.

Olivia Energy Education
Students work on creating their cardboard homes, which they will then work to make more energy efficient.

As Bluegrass Greensource’s Energy-Efficiency Educator, I have been developing and providing energy education to youth and adults in Fayette County. Since September, I have been working to bring new energy activities into the Lexington schools we serve. One of these new activities is the Energy House project, an activity originally from the NEED project. This project requires groups of students to make an energy efficient cardboard house. With specific rules and guidelines, children learn to weatherize their homes by reducing air leaks and increasing insulation. This activity requires students to use real world cost applications to make their miniature home energy efficient by using materials such as caulk, cotton padding, and weather stripping, which help students learn the costs associated with saving energy. This activity targets education in energy efficiency, weatherization, conductors/insulators, cost conservation, and basic math calculations. So far, the Green Team at Sayre School and the Science Club at Cassidy Elementary have successfully participated in this project. It is extremely rewarding to watch students as they problem solve and work together to learn about residential energy use.

For younger groups (preschool through kindergarten), a big project like the Energy House is much too complex. However, it is possible to use Bluegrass Greensource’s residential energy audit kits and infrared cameras to tailor energy lessons in ways that makes sense to them. For example, I have developed a Window Coloring Activity that better explains Infrared pictures. I first explain how an infrared camera works by taking a “thermogram,” which measures temperature variations throughout different surfaces.

An infrared photo of this class makes energy personal and fun!
An infrared photo of this class makes energy personal and fun!

I then show the students dramatic thermograms like a picture of the inside of a refrigerator or the outside of a hot cup of coffee. From there, students are given a blank window to color in, and I ask them to think about what a thermogram of a window might look like. After we are done coloring, we take a picture of a window inside the classroom and discuss our colored windows. Even kids as young as three and four are able to discuss how color and temperature relate to each other in a thermogram.

Discussing such a broad topic such as “energy” can be challenging, as there are many avenues for discussion. When asking students what they already know about energy, I often hear about their understanding of how bodies use energy to move and jump. This is great, and I love coming into classrooms in Fayette County and hearing from even the youngest kids about energy. As an Environmental Educator, it is my job to take their understanding of energy a step further and instill in these students a sense of responsibility toward our natural environment, one that makes connections between energy and the environment. My goal is for students to better understand how energy is produced and used in Kentucky and why it’s important to conserve it. Home energy is one of  biggest areas of electricity usage in the Commonwealth and is also where most students will be able to make the biggest difference through affordable equipment and basic behavior changes. This makes our efforts of increasing and further developing energy education in Fayette County extremely important.