Minturn kids learn energy is complex saving it isnt |

Minturn kids learn energy is complex saving it isnt

Matt TerrellVail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailySixth graders Logan Carlson, right, and Javier Villalobos race to pour "energy," represented by colored water, in to a communal bucket during an environmental relay race Thursday on top of Vail Mountain.

VAIL, Colorado What are the most important things a sixth grader can learn about energy?Some of its clean. Some of its not. Its best to use less of it.Students from Minturn Middle School are spending weeks learning about energy how its made, where it comes from, how it makes its way from the power plant to their X-Box, how it effects the environment, and how to conserve it.Their studies involve a lot of complicated things that many adults dont understand like wind offsets and electric grids but it all boils down to teaching them to be aware of what theyre using, said Innes Isom, science teacher at Minturn Middle School. And its not as black and white as burning coal is bad and renewable energy is good, Isom said. Students are starting to see that burning coal causes more pollution, but its also cheap and efficient. Wind energy might be clean, but its also more expensive.We want them to be able to weigh the pros and cons of each of the ways we make and use energy so they can make responsible choices, Isom said.

To put things in perspective, the students took a field trip to Vail Mountain to learn about how much energy it takes to run a ski resort compared to their own homes, and how investing in wind energy can clean up the environment.Luke Cartin, environmental coordinator for Vail Resorts, used buckets of water and cups to demonstrate how an electric grid works, and how wind energy can clean up an otherwise polluted system.Cartin placed one large bucket in the center of a room, representing the electric grid. Then a groups of students were each given a bucket of colored water, each representing one of the ways we produce electricity like burning coal, the main way local energy provider Holy Cross Energy creates electricity.Students dipped plastic cups in their water buckets and raced to dump water in the grid bucket, which quickly turned a sickly greenish color.Then there was the bucket representing wind energy, which doesnt require burning fossil fuels to create, and didnt have any coloring. It looked clean. So when the students started putting more clear water from the wind bucket into the grid bucket, the water looked less green and murky. Thats why many people, like Vail Resorts, are buying wind energy, he said.Its a little cleaner than it was before, Cartin said.

Cartin also had the students guess how much energy it takes to power a hair dryer for five hours, as well as a television, a computer, their home, and finally, a ski resort, and all five ski resorts operated by Vail Resorts.For visual effect, the students had to scoop out spoonfuls of rice onto a plate, each spoonful representing about 500 watts.How much energy would you use for 5 hours of computer time? Cartin asked them. The answer was about 3,000 watts. Some students had platefuls of rice, others just a couple scoops.Using the same scale, it would take several busfuls of rice to represent how much power Vail Resorts uses, Cartin told them.In the end, they learned, no matter how clean the grid is, its even better when people cut down their energy use. Students were able to think of several ways to conserve energy, like turning off lights, turning off the television, playing outside, and turning down the thermostat at night.As they left, each of the students received a parting gift a compact florescent light bulb that uses less energy and lasts longer than standard bulbs.Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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