Friday, April 8, 2011

Middle Schoolers Saving Electricity

They call it "the Prius Effect." Prius owners can push a button and monitor their gas mileage from moment to moment. That simple feedback loop causes them to subtly change their driving habits. They ride the accelerator less heavily and press the brakes more gently. On average, their gas mileage increases by ten percent over time.

Now the Gulf of Maine Research Institute PowerHouse program plans to apply the same principle to electricity usage by harnessing the power of middle school students. In Maine, every 7th and 8th grader has a laptop computer issued through school. Moreover, by next year, 95% of Maine homes will have their own "smart" electricity meter. GMRI's plan is to teach middle schoolers about energy by allowing them to track and analyze energy use within their own homes while comparing it to regional and statewide averages. Over time, the theory is, the kids will become picky energy consumers. They'll start turning off lights and appliances and suggest energy-saving interventions to their parents.

It's another test of the power of a feedback loop to inform citizens and lead to change. But of course, it's also a tool for bringing STEM skills to kids, teaching them about electricity, graphing, analysis, and their own power as informed citizens, while involving them in real research about an environmental question that matters to them.

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