Students understand energy conservation in different ways. To some, it is about forces and the work they do. To others, it is about taking the escalator rather than the stairs. But getting them to think about the energy consumption in their homes can be an illuminating exercise, and one that encourages a more conscientious approach in general.
Bills, bills, bills
Getting students to bring in a real electricity or gas bill is a great place to start (consider getting them to black out personal details, such as their address, if necessary). Bills contain a huge amount of information – which is often overlooked by homeowners – from the average daily usage to greenhouse gas emissions.
You could get your class to compare bills and determine which household uses the most energy. Get them to explore the possible reasons for this; there may be obvious factors, such as the number of people who live in the house, but encourage them to look beyond this and consider the finer details of their energy consumption.
To assist students with this task, get them to explore some thought-provoking questions. How much energy is used to boil a kettle? How much to power a freezer for an hour? If the heating is on in an unused room, how much energy does it waste over a day? How much impact does the size of a room have on the energy required to heat it?
For homework, students could create a log of energy usage in an attempt to account for their bills. This can then be reviewed in class, allowing them to reflect on what their individual data shows and whether there are ways that they can reduce consumption.
These activities span many areas of maths, including statistics and the conversion of units. More adventurous teachers could explore cubic volumes of rooms and the efficiency of traditional heating systems versus electric heaters. These ideas link with the fully planned lessons and resources found in The Pod, such as the 24 hours in the life of a Smart Meter activity.
Standby modes on electrical devices are significantly more efficient than they used to be. But by how much? Pupils could research and examine the evolution of the energy saving mode in a particular device and calculate how efficient it really is, comparing the past and present, and exploring any available projections for its future development. Get them to explore whether these devices should still be switched off at the mains.
Most households will have at least one older, less efficient device; pupils can calculate the implications of leaving these on. This would be ideal as an independent research activity after an introductory lesson. You can split the class up into small groups, focusing on certain devices or technologies, and then each can present their findings. They should be tasked with using as many statistical skills as possible to communicate their results to their peers.
Technology has enabled us all to become more energy-efficient homeowners. Young people have been born into a world where a lot of the thinking on energy saving has been done for them, but they should still be conscious of their impact on the environment, in large and small ways. Teachers can encourage students to drill deeper into these statistics, exploring what the most and least efficient devices are in their home, whether they are on standby or not.
Activities like these are engaging because they are provocative and personalised to students. There is unlikely to be an individual who cannot find some area of their life where they could become more energy smart, whether it’s unplugging a DVD player that’s rarely used and is surprisingly inefficient, or turning their laptop off before allowing it to go to sleep left unattended.
As automated as the world is becoming, it is still important that students understand the processes involved, particularly as humans’ approach to energy usage is the biggest factor in its consumption and waste. Awareness will enable your classes to make immediate positive changes to their own behaviour and even that of others in their households.
These students are the homeowners of tomorrow. The mindset and routines they get into now will determine their carbon footprints in the future. As consumers, they should understand – and demand – technology that can minimise their impact on the planet, while taking as many practical steps as possible to do so themselves. The data on how we live is compelling, and if it is delivered in an appropriate way to young people, it should serve to persuade them to make positive changes.
Miren Jayapal is deputy head of mathematics at Fortismere School in London