SFSF - Schools For a Sustainable Future
Joseph Natoli, SFSF Project Director, surrounded by happy, enthusiastic children
synergy vol 1 issue 1

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A Real Alternative

With the amount of energy most kids have, you'd think they'd know everything about it! They never fail to be intrigued, however, by the Alternative Technology Association's amazing interactive energy education displays.

The Alternative Technology Association (ATA) is an Australia-wide non-profit organisation that has been around since 1980. Originally conceived as a grassroots network for promoting safe alternatives to uranium as a fuel for electricity generation, over time it has developed a much wider set of interests. While renewable fuel sources like solar, wind and micro-hydro are still high on the list, the ATA also promotes the appropriate use of technologies such as composting toilets and greywater systems, energy efficient appliances, passive-solar house design and sustainable transport. It does this through its publications, information seminars, courses and school-based education programs.


Classrooms on wheels

Kids love it when they get out of their classrooms to learn, and they especially love it when special lessons are in the open air. This puts the Alternative Technology Association's mobile education unit in a good position. It began with the Renewable Technology Trailer, a rather rudimentary but highly interactive mobile display. The trailer was a success with young students, who got to see up close a working solar hot water system, and innovative ways to recycle everyday materials. A second mobile display was inspired by the idea of the Trailer, but aimed to be bigger and better. With the assistance of a grant from the Department of Primary Industry and Energy, the Energymobile was born.

The Energymobile is a semi-trailer with working demonstrations of solar and wind electricity systems, solar hot water, water pumping, sustainable transport and energy efficient appliances. It has traveled to schools, community events and homeshows in every state and territory of Australia. The Energymobile is highly interactive. Children get to see a solar panel connected directly to a water pump. When they cover the panel with their own shadow, the water stops pumping. Kids will do this several times, then squint up towards the sun. Sometimes you can see that they have made the all-important connection simply by the expression on their face. There is also a variety of common household appliances hooked up to electricity meters. By pushing different buttons children get to investigate which appliances use the most electricity.

These appliances are all powered by electricity supplied from solar panels and wind turbines mounted on the roof of the Energymobile. These feed into batteries, and DC electricity from the batteries is converted by an inverter into 240 volt AC electricity to run the appliances. The set-up simulates how a modern renewable energy system works in homes that are not connected to the electricity grid. The Solar Shuttle is another mobile energy display, and is designed to be towed by a car. It has similar interactive displays to the Energymobile, but is more suited to smaller events or class sizes.

As with the Energymobile, the ATA provides instructors to run classes, and can work with teachers to ensure that curriculum material is covered by the lesson.The ATA's education division is currently focusing on developing a range of curriculum materials for its schools programs. The development process includes the creation of a fourth mobile display, the Recycle Factory. A team of ATA members are constructing interactive displays for plastic melting and moulding, paper making and glass recycling, as well as a curriculum-based resource kit. When the 'Recycle Runabout' begins operating later in 1998, schools that book it will be supplied with a teaching pack that conforms to the requirements of the Curriculum and Standards Framework. The teaching pack focuses on topics in science, technology and SOSE, and provides materials to teachers for three lessons, including fact sheets, worksheets, games, puzzles, projects and activities.


Using solar in schools

The ATA is also trialling a new energy education program in Victoria called 'Power to the Future'. This program is the brainchild of Tam Doan, a long-time ATA member who has been teaching in Melbourne schools for many years. Tam's idea was to set up solar powered classrooms to give students day-to-day contact with renewable energy systems. Science students will be able to monitor electricity output from the panels and see how it changes during different climatic conditions, times of the day and seasons. They will also be able to monitor demand for the electricity, and devise energy saving measures.The ATA has been promoting sustainable technology for many years, and is committed to educating the next generation of renewable energy users and energy efficiency advocates. For more information about booking the ATA's mobile displays, or joining the Power to the Future program, contact: Libby Anthony on +61 3  9650 7883



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Schools For a Sustainable Future

1 Curdies St.
E. Bentleigh Vic. 3165
Joe Natoli
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