Energy is complex"conserving it isn’t
February 12, 2008
VAIL What are the most important things a sixth grader can learn about
Some of it’s clean. Some of it’s not. It’s best to use less of it.
Students from Minturn Middle School are spending weeks learning about energy
how it’s 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
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Their studies involve a lot of complicated things that many adults don’t
understand like wind offsets and electric grids but it all boils down to
teaching them to be aware of what they’re using, said Innes Isom, science
teacher at Minturn Middle School.
And it’s 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 it’s also cheap and efficient. Wind energy might
be clean, but it’s 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
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
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 doesn’t require
burning fossil fuels to create, and didn’t have any coloring. It looked
So when the students started putting more clear water from the wind bucket
into the grid bucket, the water looked less green and murky. That’s why many
people, like Vail Resorts, are buying wind energy, he said.
“It’s 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
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, it’s 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
Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or