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Communications Booster: The Great "LOCAL AND RENEWABLE" Energy Debate: Adapting Lessons for Place-based Politics and Student-centered Learning

Dan Steinberg, Princeton University
Serena Poli, Eastern Michigan University
Nicole Colston, Oklahoma State University

This page builds on the CLEAN reviewed activities Evaluating the Effects of Local Energy Resource Development, by Devin Castendyk and Great Energy Debate, from National Energy Education Development (NEED). It incorporates suggested communications strategies for teaching challenging aspects of climate science.

These materials were created by faculty as part of the CLEAN Climate Communications Workshop, held in April, 2012 and are not yet part of the CLEAN collection of reviewed resources. This activity is part of the community collection of teaching materials on climate and energy topics.

Original Resources and Activities from the CLEAN Reviewed Collection

Learning Goals

Key Learning Outcomes

Energy Literacy Context

This suite of activities relates to Energy Literacy Principle 4, various sources of energy can be used to power human activities, and often this energy must be transferred from source to destination, and Principle 5, energy decisions are influenced by economic, political, environmental, and social factors.

Instructional Strategies

Watch the video Renewables Roundup (approximately 7 minutes; it is Segment 9 of the longer video "Earth: the Operator's Manual"). The video discusses some of the different renewable energy resources available today, and whether they could meet today's global energy needs of about 15.7 terawatts.

Proceed to the project Evaluating the Effects of Local Energy Resource Development. For large classes, the activity can be modified to evaluate the development of different alternative energy resources. In this case, students will be divided in groups, and will present their findings at the end of the semester.

A good starting point for students' research is the game The Great Energy Debate, which includes a series of worksheets that help students identify pros and cons of various energy sources.

Misconceptions and Potential Pitfalls

This activity is an effective way to address the following misconceptions about:Strategies for instructors to address the misconceptions that may arise:

  1. The activity Power Source is a great exercise for assessing student misconceptions about energy resources and their role in local energy usage.

  2. Instructions from the "Great Energy Debate" serves as a good guide for basic and complex energy decisions over a large number of energy options.

  3. In the face of controversy, encourage students to first evaluate the scientific evidence. According to Understanding Science: How Science Really Works, here are some questions to have students consider:

    • Does the evidence suggest correlation or causation? In other words, do the data suggest that two factors (e.g., high blood pressure and heart attack rates) are correlated with one another or that changes in one actually cause changes in the other?
    • Is the evidence based on a large sample of observations (e.g., 10,000 patients with high blood pressure) or just a few isolated incidents?
    • Does the evidence back up all the claims made in the article (e.g., about the cause of heart attacks, a new blood pressure drug, and preventative strategies) or just a few of them?
    • Are the claims in the article supported by multiple lines of evidence (e.g., from clinical trials, epidemiological studies, and animal studies)?
    • Does the scientific community find the evidence convincing?

  4. For further information, the AAAS Science Assessment has common science misconceptions for 6-12 grade, including physical and earth science topics.

Supplemental Materials






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