You’re given a kit. Inside, there’s a piece of cardboard, a solar panel, some wiring, tape, a battery, and a few wheels. You’re asked to use them to build a solar car. Can you do it?
Matthew Llufrio did.
A Grade 6 teacher at Pine Grove Middle School, Llufrio had spent the morning learning about reverse osmosis plants. Like large, electric colanders, they’re factories that purify water by removing the salt in it. In California, Llufrio learned, they’re helping increase the clean water supply.
“They’re taking the salinity out of the water,” Llufrio said, “to help combat the fresh water issues that San Diego faces.”
The lesson about reverse osmosis plants lasted through the morning. When it ended, the challenge to build a solar car soon followed.
“We were given the materials and were told that our cars would be in a race later that day,” Llufrio said.
For the next few hours, Llufrio prepared for the race. As he developed car designs and worked with his materials, he also participated in conversations with other educators about the Next Generation Science Standards and Mathematical and Engineering Practices. Through those conversations, he said, the teachers made connections to the solar cars they were building.
“We were given time to collaborate with others and the professional speakers and staff that were presenting that day,” Llufrio said. “You could tell that the goal of this was to take what we learned and bring it back to our classrooms.”
And Llufrio was right: The lesson about reverse osmosis plants and the challenge to build a solar car were both part of Honeywell’s 2016 Green Boot Camp for middle school teachers.
Gaining new experiences
Held this summer in San Diego, California, the Green Boot Camp was a four-day, educational workshop on renewable energy and sustainability. Fifty middle school teachers from 13 countries attended the boot camp, where they participated in interactive lessons, exploratory projects, and other hands-on activities.
“We did a variety of activities focusing on sustainability,” Llufrio said. “We were never stuck at the hotel in a conference room, just listening to someone talk at us for several hours.”
According to Llufrio, mornings in the boot camp would start with a group challenge. For one, the teachers were told to create a tool that would lift a paperclip 10 inches off the ground. Without further guidance, the educators received their materials, set a timer, and began working.
“The directions of how to do something were always very vague, but the end goal was clear,” Llufrio said. “It really gave us an opportunity to work through various challenges like we were students and get a sense of the conversations and struggles that may take place.”
During the day, Llufrio said the educators also participated in other activities. From planting urban gardens to joining community clean-ups and learning about building rain barrels, the experiences gave the teachers new insights into their professions.
“I learned several different ways to make sustainability ‘cool’ for middle school students,” Llufrio said. “You hear ‘renewable energy,’ and everyone always thinks ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle.’ But there is so much more to it than that.”
Through his involvement in the boot camp, Llufrio said he got a chance to explore some of those other ideas related to renewable energy and sustainability. In fact, the opportunity to learn about those ideas in greater depth was what initially led him to apply to the boot camp last fall.
“I wanted to learn about the cutting-edge technology in the sustainability field and share that excitement with my students,” Llufrio said. “The idea of working with teachers from all around the world who share the same passion as you was also appealing.”
Sharing new knowledge
Though Llufrio, who recently began his second year working for BCPS, hadn’t participated in a program like Honeywell’s Green Boot Camp before, he said the experience was a memorable one. At the end of the boot camp, he left with a USB drive of 50 sustainability lesson plans for his classroom; 36 credit hours from the University of San Diego; and, of course, more than a few new friendships.
“I made a lot of new friends who I still keep in touch with today,” Llufrio said. “It was truly an unforgettable experience.”
When he returned from the boot camp earlier this summer, Llufrio spent some time searching for other programs like the Honeywell one. But, now, he’s spending his time doing something else. As he settles into the new school year, Llufrio said he’s looking for ways to apply what he learned this summer to new lessons for his students.
“My main goal is just to get the students informed about sustainability and all the ways they can contribute,” he said. “Learning by doing is memorable, and the students we teach every day are the ones who can truly make a difference for our environment.”
Honeywell’s Green Boot Camp is a free, annual workshop for accepted middle school teachers. For more information about the boot camp, visit www.honeywellinteract.com/greenbootcamp/info.html.