KENILWORTH, Nj — Sometimes teachers are unsure just how a lesson will land. But instructional coach Dawn Horling is confident that Kenilworth Public Schools’ sixth-graders will enjoy a challenge to generate green energy — after all, she already had a great experience completing the project.
Horling and Harding Elementary School science teacher Melissa Marks participated in the challenge during a professional development workshop in January. The instructors had to create a device that would power green energy.
“We made a wind turbine … it was really interesting on so many levels,” Horling said.
She was most impressed with the user-friendly structure of the activity, which was run by the Rutgers Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Education.
“I taught sixth-grade science, but I’m not who you would expect to be teaching science. I came from teaching high school English. It is a stretch for me to think the engineering and design way,” said Horling. “But this was so clear for someone like me, to create the project from start to finish.”
That’s why Horling believes the project will resonate even with students who are not science-inclined. The Rutgers CMSCE team will help her run the “Human Impact and Energy” challenge in June, with all four sixth-grade classes at Harding Elementary. Grant funding will cover the costs of the project.
Keeping up with standards
“Innovative instruction is always a priority at Kenilworth Public Schools. We particularly welcome any chance for students to learn about important issues that affect their future, such as climate change,” said Kenilworth Superintendent Kyle Arlington. “The trajectory of this project illustrates the real impact of professional development. When we teach and inspire instructors, they are excited to build knowledge and learning experiences with their students.”
Horling was already pursuing grant funding for climate education when she took the energy workshop. She first connected with the Rutgers CMSCE instructors during a May 2022 workshop on making lanternfly traps, and they had been a resource ever since.
Edward Cohen, the Rutgers CMSCE assistant director, and Brielle Kociolek, the senior iSTEM education coordinator, partnered with the Kenilworth district to help sixth- through eighth-grade science teachers adapt to new instructional standards.
“Eddie informed me about and encouraged me to join Sustainable Jersey for Schools to apply for a grant to fund a project-based learning challenge,” Horling said.
The original plan was to possibly replicate the lanternfly trap project with Kenilworth students, but the green energy challenge was more relevant to the district’s needs as it continues to incorporate the New Jersey Climate Change Education standards into its curriculum. New Jersey implemented the requirement in 2020, becoming the first state in the nation to include climate change across all content areas.
Expanding options through grants
The first step to applying for the Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant was registering for the organization — an effort that required participation from across the district. The principals and superintendent wrote letters, the Board of Education passed a resolution, and Horling was responsible for forming a staff “Green Team.” She started by tapping Dale Sona, the environmental science teacher at David Brearley Middle-High School.
As Horling awaited word on whether the district would receive a $2,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant, Cohen notified her of another opportunity — a New Jersey Department of Education Climate Awareness Grant.
The district received that grant, which will pay $6,660 toward climate change professional development, curriculum development and instructional materials, and hands-on projects like the “Human Impact and Energy” challenge.
The grant funding also was used to send five teachers to Rutgers University’s Climate Change Workshop, and for supplies to upgrade Brearley’s courtyard and pond. Sona’s environmental science students will manage the outdoor projects, including planting blue and yellow flowers to represent the Kenilworth district colors of blue and gold.
Horling says the district is also seeking an updated science series with the help of the Rutgers-CMSCE instructors.
Sixth-grade teachers Marks and Saveria Campanile have been laying the foundation for the engineering design process and environment-based projects, but current district materials don’t touch on the human impact of climate change.
“Because of the shift in the focus on our work, we will look for materials from 2020 and newer that explore what is actually happening in the universe, like with the climate,” Horling said.
Harding sixth-graders will design their “Human Impact and Energy” devices just two days before school lets out. Before they head to end-of-the-year classroom parties, they just might snag awards such as “Most Creative” and “Most Energy Generated.”
Horling believes the project is engaging — and important — enough to capture students’ attention even when summer break is close at hand.
“I’m really excited for them to collaborate on something that lets them work with real-world problems and come up with real-world solutions,” Horling said. “Who knows what that will spark?”