Stories & Features

Energy Connections 2.0: BC Hydro tweaks Grade 7 lesson plans

Image of a workshop participant at Yorkson Creek Middle School
Yorkson Creek teacher Lindsay Parkes looks for potential safety issues portrayed in a "Where's Waldo?" style poster that's part of BC Hydro's Energy Connections program for Grade 7 students.

Students don't just build cool stuff; they explore what interests them

Science teachers across B.C. are embracing the exploration of "Big Ideas" as part of B.C.'s new curriculum, and it's their job to help students understand those ideas. BC Hydro's Energy Connections initiative makes the Big Idea of electromagnetism a pretty easy sell to Grade 7 students.

"There's always one or two kids who already know about electricity," says Deanna Neustaedter, a teacher at Langley's Yorkson Creek Middle School. "But there's also a lot that are all about the joy of discovery. When I do the first lesson and just give them two alligator clips, a battery and a light bulb and say 'light it up', the kids that had never experimented with it are like "COME HERE! I MADE LIGHT!"

Neustaedter was part of an Energy Connections workshop for teachers at Yorkson Creek earlier this year run by Wendy Lorch, who provides basics, insights and tips about the resources and lesson plans for BC Hydro. Neustaedter may have been a "student" at the workshop, but she's a longtime champion of BC Hydro's programs for students. And she's a fan of how the Energy Connections lesson plans have been tweaked to conform to the B.C. education curriculum's new focus on personalized learning.

The hands-on component of Energy Connections remains, including building a basic circuit that will bring a light bulb to life, building an electric motor and building an electromagnet. That stuff is fun and informative, but what's new is the inquiry component of the program, where students choose an electricity generation option – anything from hydro, to solar, to wind or tidal power – and spend time researching and analyzing its pros and cons before presenting their findings to the class.

Neustaedter says the personalized research component makes it easier to maintain a student's interest. It's a way of ensuring that the "light" produced by the discovery of how to build an electrical circuit doesn't go out as the lessons roll along.

"With the research part, a kid might say 'I'm more interested in bioenergy than hydro', and then they get to research it," says Neustaedter. "If I dictate what they have to do, I don't get the buy-in. The kids definitely enjoy it more when it's about their own interests."

Image of a workshop participants at Yorkson Creek Middle School
Yorkson Creek Elementary teachers Lori Villeneuve and Ryan Hughes adjust an electrical circuit as part of a workshop in which teachers get up to speed on electromagnetics explorations that are part of BC Hydro's Energy Connections lesson plans for Grade 7 students.

The basics of hydroelectricity, and electrical safety, are still core

The Energy Connections unit features 14 lesson plans that start with experiments and run through basic exploration of energy generation methods, with a focus on hydroelectricity, which provides more than 93% of B.C.'s electricity needs. And early on, there's a focus on electrical safety.

"All of our materials have an electrical safety lesson because BC Hydro feels it's really important to impart the safety message whenever we can, particularly when your students are out and about in the environment," presenter Lorch told teachers at the Langley workshop. "If they stumble across an electrical safety hazard, would they know what to do?"

Lorch handed out the safety poster to the teachers and discussed how exploration of the poster, which features a "Where's Waldo?" approach to identifying potential electrical hazards, is far more effective than presenting a list of safety rules.

"The poster is divided into four panels," said Lorch. "The idea is that each student gets a panel and is expected to become an expert on their quarter of the poster."

Lorch said to the teachers, "see if you can spot all the electrical safety hazards in your section."

Some of the hazards were easy to spot. Others were difficult. And there was plenty of discussion among the teachers, who had earlier bombarded Lorch with questions about the best techniques in winding coils around a nail to create an electromagnet. Buy-in with this group, and presumably their Grade 7 students, doesn't seem to be an issue.

Three tips from a veteran of teaching Energy Connections

Neustaedter points to teacher preparation as vital to getting the most out of the lesson plans, and she's grateful that the new kit includes energy generation option fact sheets that she feels will save teachers hours of investigation.

Here are her three tips to getting the most out of the lesson plans:

  • "Practice it at home first. Get to know the materials and have those little tidbits of knowledge to share with them."
  • "Let the kids explore. Let them go. If they have an idea and it's not going to cause damage, let them try the variables. That's where the most learning happens."
  • "Take your class on a visit to BC Hydro's Powerhouse at Stave Falls Visitor Centre."

Learn more about BC Hydro's other school programs at schools.bchydro.com.