Let there be solar!

By

Jennifer Priest Mitchell

 Schools in Palestine received new rooftop solar technology, and students in the classrooms beneath them will learn the science behind the project thanks to collaborations started at Arizona State University. Empower Kids Palestine is a program making a long-term impact throughout Palestine’s West Bank. Started in 2014 and funded through the support of a generous donor, the program is a partnership among Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the Fulton Schools of Engineering, Palestine’s Ministry of Education, the Palestinian Energy Authority and An-Najah University.

 Alissa Koerner, senior project manager in the research division of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said, “Currently, Palestine is almost completely energy dependent on Israel. Because of the high levels of solar radiation available throughout the year, solar technology provides an exciting opportunity for the Palestinians to produce their own electricity. The Empower Kids Palestine program provides solar panels to schools, while also teaching Palestinian youth about the transformational potential for solar energy in the region where they live. Educators in these schools are learning new teaching methods and provided with curricular materials and science kits to engage students in this learning.”

 Peter Rillero, associate professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, traveled with Koerner to Palestine over the summer to train teachers and professionals and prepare them to share science lessons with students and educators. A three-day training reached 25 people, including teachers, principals, supervisors and curriculum coordinators from the ministry of education. All who attended will replicate what they experienced and further advance these concepts and teaching styles across education communities in the West Bank.

 “We emphasized content in solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies along with hands-on approaches to science education. Classroom instruction in Palestine is traditionally very lecture-based and teacher centered. While there, we were able to share models of science education, which build on current work in our college,” Koerner said. “The training was experiential and allowed Palestinian educators to explore concepts related to solar power through inquiry and problem-based learning. Participants engaged in small group activities and discussion.”

 Koerner and Rillero worked with educators in Palestine using student-centered approaches to instruction. Through a strategy called ‘Predict, Observe, and Explain,’ participants made predictions about what they thought would occur in a science experiment, observed a demonstration and explained the results. When this model is taught, the instructor typically chooses a demonstration that is discrepant, or does not have an easily predictable outcome.  Through a model of inquiry called ‘Explore and Explain,’ participants would first explore a concept related to solar energy through hands-on learning, which would then be explained through discussion and video material. Participants ended each day with a problem-based learning experience in which they would have to solve a context-based problem in Palestine by building their own solar cookers, solar thermal water heaters and solar-powered fountains.

Solar installations on schools will increase the country’s renewable energy capacity and reduce the country’s heavy reliance on other regions for energy. Koerner said this increase in the West Bank’s energy independence will offer hope for the future to many young people as they will learn about alternative energy sources and the creativity necessary to develop new ideas. Middle school students will present the solar technology solutions they develop throughout the units of study at a national science fair sponsored by Al Nayzak Science House, a Palestinian non-profit agency.

Koerner said that the expertise of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College faculty was a great foundation for the curriculum and related materials. “There is a wealth of knowledge in our college, particularly around inquiry- and problem-based learning in STEM education.”