High School Shop Class Gets a Green Make-over

The emerging field of green technology is full of promising possibilities, but in order to be successful there is a need for a properly trained workforce. Matthew Brown, a technology educator at Warren Tech-Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Colo., has taken the decisive step to teach his students about renewable and sustainable technologies.

What most people remember as shop class has morphed into a cutting-edge, technologically-advanced set of lectures that under Brown's careful watch focus on sustainable technology and renewable energy resources.

Brown began developing the sustainable energy and design curriculum while participating in the Academies Creating Teacher Scientists (ACTS) program at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado. He was one of ten teachers accepted into the ACTS program in 2005. The ACTS program is a three-year commitment where the teacher works with a different group each year to gain a better background in the field of renewable energy. The fellow's final project consists of published papers and project-based, inquiry-driven curriculum that is included into the ACTS program pool for use by other educators.

During his three-year assignment, Brown worked with the Federal Energy Management program to meet efficient and economical renewable energy mandates — primarily wind and solar resources. During his second year in the program, he analyzed and compared the emissions benefits of biodiesel versus diesel. During his final year in the ACTS program, Brown developed a series of short animations on how solar panels work.

Joshua Nelson and Karin Bennett testing their fuel cell vehiclePhoto Credit - Matthew Brown

Joshua Nelson and Karin Bennett testing their fuel cell vehicle.

Brown teaches his ACTS curriculum during the technology courses that according to Jonathan Davies an Einstein Fellow with the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, ‘rivals what you might find at an established community college." He expanded the original curriculum to include lectures on green building and energy efficiency as well as transportation and fuel.

Brown admits that he likes to keep the subject matter in his lectures broad in order to appeal "to many different students with different career paths." He hopes to add a research and business component to the program in order to attract students who follow the international baccalaureate, the college directed path, at the high school into his classes. Students who successfully complete the program can obtain certifications after graduation.

According to Brown, "kids come into [the class] not knowing a lot about sustainable technologies. [During the class,] they gain experience experimenting with solar panels and understanding how they work, building hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and creating biodiesel." In the end, the students "leave with a better idea of the possibilities" of green technologies.

Traditionally, lectures on biofuels and renewable resources are not a central theme in secondary education curriculum. "But now," says Brown, "several science teachers are incorporating sections from [my] class into their science classes."

Past students have benefited from Brown's hard work. "I started this program five years ago and now several of my former students attend the Colorado School of Mines pursuing an education in chemical engineering for biofuels," said Brown.

Rita Fountain making biodieselPhoto Credit - Matthew Brown

Rita Fountain making biodiesel.

Currently, Brown is in contact with colleagues in Minnesota, Alabama, Colorado, and California to replicate his Lakewood curriculum to educate the next generation of students in the pursuit of green and sustainable technology. In addition, Brown and Lakewood High School have articulated an agreement with neighboring Red Rock Community College (RRCC) to teach RRCC curriculum to students still attending high school. The collaboration began with programs in AutoCAD and construction and evolved to include Energy 101 – an introduction to energy - based on Brown's high school curriculum. "This [partnership] has been a good relationship and taken off for RRCC as well," said Brown.

Brown credits much of his success to his administration's support. "My principle was formerly a technology teacher and [he] has supported all of my hair-brained ideas for the last seven years," said Brown.

In the future, Brown hopes to develop courses that fold together sustainable energy and building design. He is certified by Green Advantage and is consulting with groups that develop energy efficient and healthier living spaces using certified green products and natural lighting.

The ACTs program is administered through the Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists within the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

Lakewood High is the second largest of eighteen comprehensive high schools in Jefferson County School District R-1, the largest K-12 school system in Colorado serving over 86,000 students.

This article was written by Stacy W. Kish