The shift has begun. Canada is facing a major crossroad concerning its energy future—one that today’s youth will have to navigate as they lead the gradual pivot away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energy. According to a recent report by Clean Energy Canada, the clean energy sector is expected to employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030. Within this context, youth will need to be prepared for jobs in an expanding green economy. It appears inevitable that clean energy technologies will power the future. Yet, the question still remains: how can we ensure that youth will be ready?
Energy is an important topic for the classroom, and it is not just the career opportunities that ought to be a subject for study. The value of clean energy sources towards creating a greener, more sustainable future should be top of mind for students. They will be the ones to pave the way for a global reduction in greenhouse gases as we address the global climate crisis. Students have so much to contribute towards Canada’s clean economy and can realize the many benefits of the innovation that is required. Therefore, it is necessary now, more than ever, for this field of study to be brought into everyday curriculum, linking learning to positive action and changes in their own behaviours around energy use, as well as innovating for a clean energy future.
Teachers play a major role in educating youth about energy—a subject that is at the core of students’ daily lives. To create rich learning experiences around energy topics, teachers can integrate the ideas of green energy education into the curriculum they are already teaching. This spans from science and math to engineering and the arts. Here are some tips on how teachers can prepare our youth for a clean energy economy.
Foster Global Citizenship with UN Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #7 is affordable and clean energy. This is an opportunity to communicate and discuss the complex energy-related challenges in other parts of the world with your students. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, millions of people do not have access to a reliable source of power. In groups, have your students brainstorm and research solutions to this problem and help them document their ideas for ensuring clean, renewable, and affordable energy for all.
Set a Practical Example Students Can Follow
Using a set of simple classroom rules that you will also follow, encourage your students to understand that each time they turn on the lights in a room or charge their cell phones or the computer, energy is being used. Post mini stickers around the classroom that encourage students to turn off the lights when leaving the room, unplug their unused electronic devices and power down the computer after each use. Take this step even further and inspire youth to make small changes at home by sharing the learning with their families. Your students can take small actions to save energy or convince their parents to take advantage of provincial programs that offer free smart home energy meters.
Link the Learning to Action and Behaviour Change
The type of learning that creates the most impact is often that which is actionable and practical. When it comes to taking action, you can invite your students to develop and implement an innovative school-based project that improves energy conservation and energy efficiency. This helps create access to clean energy and addresses student concerns related to climate change. By engaging your students in hands-on, inquiry-based or project-based activities, they can potentially “see” firsthand the amount of greenhouse gases they can save. Carbon footprint calculators available online can also help students determine their own progress. Witnessing the positive impact they can have on the environment as a direct result of their learning will inspire change and renew their commitment towards environmentally responsible behaviour. Clean energy is a great topic for Earth Day in April or World Environment Day in June, but you can teach about clean energy at any time of the year.
Place an Emphasis on 21st Century Education Skills
Students need to keep up with the lightning-pace changes happening in today’s global economy. To this end, 21st Century skills can help students foster the characteristics required for them to become successful and actively engaged citizens of our society. By adopting an innovation mindset, youth will be better able to contribute to a modern work environment. Teachers can equip students by emphasizing these key attributes in the classroom. Projects that involve creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and media or technology literacy, coupled with leadership and entrepreneurship are a recipe for success in both the classroom and workplace.
Take Advantage of Funding and Resources
Funding and resources are available for schools to pursue projects that help students gain a better understanding of the issues and how to take action. Grants and funding opportunities exist that help with everything from awareness to action on energy-related projects. Here are a few:
- Solar for Schools – a funding program run by the Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, which is one of the existing solar incentives available to help grow clean energy in Alberta schools through installation of rooftop solar panels. Incentives provided include a rebate of up to $1.50 per watt on solar energy generated to offset school energy costs. Through this program, schools can get up to 50% of their costs covered.
- Classroom Energy Diet Challenge – an energy literacy competition in which Canadian classrooms from K to 12 participate for a chance to win prizes worth a total of $40,000. It consists of 16 energy- themed challenges and a video challenge. A component includes two Energy Educator of the Year awards given to teachers based on their classroom’s involvement in the competition and contribution to the increase of energy literacy amongst students.
- School Energy Challenge Program – a friendly competition run by Enbridge amongst participating schools across Canada that encourages students to take action towards energy efficiency. Students will study using a series of modules to understand how natural gas is consumed and ways in which the demand for it can be reduced through the use of efficient technologies and behaviour change. Students will then form green teams to compete against other schools, all the while tracking their activities online via a points dashboard for a chance to win up to $3,000 for the school.
- Re-Energy – a program of GreenLearning and a tool for turning students into clean energy engineers. It consists of a series of modules, each one focused on a particular type of clean energy. It teaches through hands-on, project-based learning whereby students are taught how to build a solar oven, wind turbine, hydro generator and biogas generator. More recently, the program is evolving to also include modules on electric vehicles and energy storage. Schools can win up to $500 in the annual Solar Oven Challenge.
As Canadians, we are fortunate to live in such a beautiful country filled with an abundance of natural resources. We know that we must be responsible caretakers of our resources, keeping in mind the ancient Indigenous philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. We are undergoing a shift in our economy that can be challenging to cope with sometimes. But, by shifting our thinking, embracing the change, and empowering our students we can ensure a cleaner, resilient, sustainable, and prosperous future for many generations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jamila Kyari is the Communications Manager at GreenLearning and is based in Kitchener, ON. She works with teachers and students on a variety of environmental education programs in the areas of energy, climate change, and green economy. greenlearning.ca
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2020 issue.