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Solar Home Teaching Kids About Sustainable Technologies

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Justin Beach

Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

Thousands of middle school students touring solar decathlon competition site

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The international solar decathlon competition is not only a learning experience for the 11 student-teams who spent more than two years building the homes; the 10-day competition has also been an opportunity for middle school students from around the Denver metro area to learn about sustainable technology.

“It’s really hard for me to make something that is so abstract seem real to the kids,” says Katie Nellis, a science teacher from Mrachek Middle School in Aurora. “Once I found out that this was going to be in Denver, we decided that we have to get the kids here.”

Nellis came to the decathlon site with a group of eighth-graders. The students spent a semester learning about energy, so the sustainable designs they saw in the homes helps bring the classroom lessons to life.

“We learn something in class, but then you never really get to experience it,” says Josh Alvarez, an eighth-grader from Mrachek Middle School. “Here, you really get to experience it and say, ‘oh, that’s why; oh, that’s how you do it.’ I find this really cool. This is better for learning and you get to expand your mind.”

One of the homes the eighth-graders had the opportunity to tour is the collaboration between the University of Denver and the University of California at Berkeley. The house is powered by a solar array, and the home stores the energy allowing it to operate off the grid. The bedrooms have murphy beds and the walls move to allow for an expanded living space. The bathroom has a recycling system that collects bath and shower water, which is then filtered, disinfected and recycled for use in the toilet. Seeing the accomplishments of college students served as inspiration for this group of students.

“They are just normal people like me, and it’s cool to see that anybody can really do this and anybody can get out there if you just put your mind to it,” says eighth-grader Rebecca Ballesteros.

Nellis hopes that by seeing the homes, particularly one built by local students from the DU/UC Berkeley team, her students will better understand the different technologies that are available and realize their overall potential.

“We need to teach the kids about solar in a way that they can see, touch and feel,” Nellis says. “I just wanted this to be rational learning, and I’m hoping that this inspires them.”