Boxing clever

9th January 2009 at 00:00
How to turn your pizza carton into a solar cooker - and other smart energy-saving ideas

A highland teacher who began her career in her forties is touring the Highlands and Islands, training teachers how to use The Renewable Energy Toolkit she developed with her business partner.

Pat Thornton teaches part-time at Balnain Primary near Inverness and runs an educational consultancy with ecologist Liz Balharry, a former secondary teacher. Mrs Thornton ran a successful cycle business with her husband for many years before returning to education in her late thirties

Through their Educational Resource Partnership, the two women developed the toolkit on behalf of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and they now run work-shops showing teachers how to use it effectively.

The kit is packed with games and experiments, fact sheets, posters and quizzes with a user's guide and CD, which allows the content to be used on a whiteboard. It will be used in 200 primary schools throughout the Highlands and Islands.

Mrs Thornton piloted the kit with her P5-7 pupils, which allowed the children to suggest any modifications. There are 10 activities altogether and there are fact sheets and three games - all on renewable energy.

Mrs Thornton took up teaching 12 years ago. "I went to night school to get my Highers when I was 36. I was 38 when I applied to go to college. I did a four-year degree course in Dundee and came home every weekend," she says.

She and Liz Balharry have been running the Educational Resource Partnership for six years. They have been doing continuing professional development work on the toolkits in Shetland, Lewis, Argyll and Bute, Caithness and Moray, are going to Orkeny in February.

"The three games we invented are The Climate Change Game, which gives children the background on the whole problem; Energy Saving Bingo, which means as well as using renewable energy, they are going to conserve energy; and the Renewable Energy Floor Game which is the most popular one. This gives the most hilarity at our CPD sessions. Teachers get quite competitive when they do this game," says Mrs Thornton.

"Sometimes there are two answers to the question and then they have to straddle with a foot on one answer and the other foot on the other answer."

The children are learning about the seven renewable energies and they're learning about the advantages and disadvantages, she explains. They're also learning how each energy works by the activities that they do with them.

In the true spirit of recycling, the kit also contains bits of junk, like plastic bottles and a pizza box. "We make the pizza box into a solar cooker and they make a water turbine out of the plastic bottles," says Mrs Thornton.

Photographs of several of her pupils who piloted the toolkit appear on the activity cards doing some of the experiments. "They were thrilled to bits about that," their teacher explains.

Pupils are also able to use output meters to check and compare the output of the various renewable energy forms.

Rhoda Macdonald, headteacher at Shelibost Primary, in Harris, took part in one of the recent training sessions, which she described as "very exciting".

"The CPD was so hands-on and it gives you an insight into everything in the box and suggestions for lots of lessons you could do with the class."

Helen Budge, head of schools in Shetland, says proposals for a local wind farm have sparked great debate. "This project being run by HIE will give young children the opportunity to understand and get involved in the debate and this is particularly pertinent, given what is happening in our community."

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