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Using A Real World, Project Based Energy Module To Improve Energy Literacy Among High School Youth

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

High-School Engineering Education

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1309.1 - 14.1309.14



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Paper Authors


Jan DeWaters Clarkson University

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Jan DeWaters, PE is currently pursuing a PhD degree in Environmental Science and Engineering at Clarkson University, with a focus on energy and environmental education. She has several years of experience as the curriculum coordinator for Clarkson's Project-Based Learning Partnership Program and directed the Partners in Engineering Program that provides mentoring and engineering activities for eighth grade girls.

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Susan Powers Clarkson University

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Susan E. Powers, PhD, PE is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Associate Dean in Engineering for Research and Graduate Studies at Clarkson University. She has directed an NSF-Funded GK-12 Program - Project-Based Learning Partnership Program since 1999 and received the NSF Directors Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars in 2004.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Using a Real-world, Project-based Energy Module to Improve Energy Literacy among High School Youth


A project-based energy module has been taught for five consecutive years in a high school environmental science class as part of an NSF GK-12 outreach program. The module brings students through an exploration of problems and potential solutions related to automotive transportation, a relevant topic for the average American teenager. Students investigate problems related to our current fossil fuel based transportation system including environmental impacts and limited fuel supplies, and explore potential solutions that include alternative modes of transportation and fuels as well as lifestyle changes. Changes in students’ energy literacy, a broad term that includes a citizenship understanding of energy issues as well as attitude and behavioral aspects, have been assessed over the last three program years using a quasi- experimental, mixed methods approach that includes both quantitative and qualitative measures. The quantitative measure consists of a written Energy Literacy Survey that has been developed and validated as part of this research. Qualitative data, collected through a combination of questionnaires, focus group interviews, and classroom observations, add depth and understanding to the quantitative results. Analysis of the quantitative survey over three consecutive years indicates that students show significant improvement in energy-related knowledge (scores increased from 60% pre to 68% post), feelings of self-efficacy related to energy issues (71% pre to 75% post), and energy consumption behaviors/intentions (63% pre to 69% post). Similar gains reported by a comparison group, available for only one study year, indicate that students may be influenced by experiences outside the classroom and point to the need for additional data to clarify the results. When asked to self-assess their learning, 84% of the students said they learned a lot or a quite a bit about energy issues. Responses to open-ended questionnaire items indicate that the course increased (81% of the) students’ awareness of the need to conserve energy; 54% indicated that they are more aware of the implications of their own energy use on the overall energy problems; 20% say they are more aware of, and troubled by, Americans’ overconsumption of energy resources; and 60% reported positive changes in their energy consumption behaviors. These preliminary results suggest that the project-based curriculum is effective for promoting student learning, but the generally low knowledge scores indicate the need for continued efforts toward wider implementation of energy education programs.


Energy issues are inarguably the most hotly debated topics in today’s world. As we move toward a future with dwindling fossil fuel resources and worsening environmental conditions, our society is becoming increasingly entrenched in a struggle to define new directions with respect to energy consumption and energy independence. Energy literacy, which includes broad, citizenship knowledge as well as attitudinal and behavioral aspects, will enable people to embrace appropriate decisions and behaviors with respect to energy in everyday life. An informed public will be better equipped to make responsible energy choices and actions.

DeWaters, J., & Powers, S. (2009, June), Using A Real World, Project Based Energy Module To Improve Energy Literacy Among High School Youth Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4626

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