Teachers’ Bright Ideas About Energy Workshop

On March 16, 2019, presenters from the School District of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Philadelphia Energy Authority, and Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants (BSEC) gathered at the Franklin Institute for the Bright Ideas About Energy Workshop. This workshop consisted of twenty-two sustainable minded teachers from the Philadelphia region seeking to enhance their understanding of energy conservation and develop tools to bring back to the classroom.


Heather Cowley, the Regional Energy Specialist for the Pennsylvania DEP’s Southeast Regional Office, laid out Energy 101, providing a basic foundation about energy use and energy “vampires” - devices that suck up energy even when they aren’t in use. When asked about the importance of teacher sustainability workshops, she stated “It’s important to teach the teachers, so they can teach the children. We are hoping that the kids understand and help their parents make the change and then when they become adults they’ll already know what to do next.”

Megan Garner, Sustainability Manager for the School District of Philadelphia, talked to the group about Green Futures, the five year plan to make Philly schools more sustainable. Part of the plan includes reducing energy use across the district. “We’re all in this together and we all need to be responsible together,” she says. “If you provide the right tools, the right level of support and give clear examples about how this can impact a teacher’s experience in the classroom it can really inspire others to take action, and that level of enthusiasm will authentically translate to their students.”

Following a presentation from Dr. Rachel Valletta, the director of the City and Urban Systems Partnership run through the Franklin Institute, teachers raced to stop air from flowing out of the interactive model “House of Holes.” The model demonstrates one of the possibilities to save energy discussed by Dr. Valletta by properly sealing doors and windows to stop A/C and heat from escaping. She also poses the questions “How can we become informed citizens to make a decision on [environmental policy] and help our students get there as well? How can we best equip them with the capacity to make those decisions?” Her answer: environmental education.

Teachers learned what it takes to become an Eco-School from Holly Gallagher, Regional Education Manager for NWF. Then they were given a chance to check out the Energy Exhibit at the Franklin Institute and returned to learn about solar power and Solarize Philly from Laura Rigell, the Solar Manager for the Philadelphia Energy Authority. “It’s critically important that teachers understand how energy can be used as a tool for impact in their schools, both as a tool to achieve needed capital improvement to buildings and the tool to connect their students to careers in the clean energy economy,” she states. Mary Ann Boyer, Co-founder of BSEC, presented teachers with an engaging lesson plan to teach their students about electricity. Afterward they measured air temperatures, kilowatts, the power of insulation, and calculated their carbon footprints.

To wrap up the workshop, everyone took a pledge to reduce energy and practice energy-saving behaviors. In order to conserve we can use simple tactics such as unplugging household appliances when not in use, reusing and recycling waste as much as possible, and turning off the faucet when not in use. Participating teachers discuss their motivation to participate in workshops like this one. Paula Miller, a Physics and Robotics teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School, says “The reason I decided to join this workshop today was to get more ideas on how I can instruct my students about sustainability and also to meet like-minded teachers and network.” Kireema Sprowal, a 4th grade teacher at Feltonville Intermediate School, says “Every time I come to a different workshop it really is different content, more information that’s actually building upon itself, so it's easily transferable for me to digest the information and take it back to the classroom, build on what I’m doing inside my classroom with my students.” She also remarks, “Without having sustainability as my foundation...I don’t think I would’ve had the success that I had this year, especially when it comes to behavior, building up communication with the parents, and between the students.”

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Key facts from the workshop:

  • Philadelphia uses less than 4% renewable energy - not including hydroelectric - and sources the majority of its energy from natural gas.

  • Microwaves and hair dryers are the biggest household consumers of energy - even when not in use.

  • A gap of only ⅛” around a door amounts to a hole bigger than the size of your hand, allowing large amounts of conditioned air to escape.

  • The second largest cost across the school district in energy, but schools waste about 30-60% of their energy

  • 37% of electricity is consumed by commercial buildings,  38% by residential units, and 25% is used by factories.

Teachers enjoyed this workshop. Physics / Robotics teacher, Paula Miller,  from Abraham Lincoln High School reflected: “I joined this workshop to get more ideas on how I can instruct my students about sustainability. I  met like-minded teachers and knowledge that I can bring back to my school.”

By Lauren Hammett, a senior in the Environmental Studies department at Temple University ‘19, and intern at Boyer Sudduth Environmental Consultants.