Connecting the Dots: From the Energy Industry to the Classroom

Recently, Union Power representatives, Jake Thomas, manager of marketing and energy services; Billy Brantley, energy specialist; Jamie Taylor, director of environmental health and safety; and Jason Helms, journeyman visited Western Union Elementary School to speak with a group of fourth grade students about the importance of electrical safety.

The school is starting to incorporate the Project Based Learning (PBL) model into their Science curriculum, and a part of the PBL model involves inviting experts from a field of study for each unit they cover.

The group discussed how energy is used in our daily lives and talked about what energy companies do daily – engaging students with a hands-on, interactive demo of how electricity works – from its source of generation to the power we consume in our schools, businesses, and homes.

Students also got a chance to hear a first-hand experience of what it is like being a line worker from Helms, who shared with them the importance of wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as insulated gloves, fire retardant clothing, safety goggles, and hard hats. Students even had an opportunity to try on the gear themselves.

Having already started to learn about energy in their science classes, the fourth graders expressed great knowledge about electricity and made many observations, noting the biggest contributing factors of power consumption are:

  • Heating and cooling (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning – HVAC)
  • Water heating
  • Lighting

Students also shared how they can make a difference by using safe practices and making an effort to conserve energy by turning off lights when leaving a room, taking shorter showers, and opening the blinds/shades when it’s cold outside.

Eager to learn more about safety and electricity, students asked questions about how electricity is made and what to do in various situations where safety is a concern. A few fourth grade students shared what they learned and enjoyed most about the presentation:

  • “It was really cool to see electricity in action.” – Ava
  • “If you’re in a situation where a power line is down, you should stay in the car and call for help – but if you need to get out, you should jump out and keep both feet on the ground at all times.” – Alex
  • “I am very into nuclear energy and learning about how it is made. I was surprised to learn that wood is also a conductor of electricity.” – Liam

And for the students, the learning doesn’t stop there. Students will soon do a deep-dive on types of conductors and insulators using batteries. “During this unit, students will learn all about electricity – wind, solar, magnetic, and heat. After I’ve taught all of the lessons, my students will get a chance to create projects of their own using some of the concepts they’ve learned in the unit…almost like a science fair with just electricity; and at the end of the unit, students will present their projects,” said teacher Nick Brooks.

Another learning opportunity for local students, Wayne Hathcock, manager of engineering, along with Thomas and Brantley, shared a brief history of the Cooperative business model and discussed where power comes from and how it is produced with a science class at Parkwood High School, who are learning about Clean Energy.