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Elementary students learning about renewable energy with help of local businesses

April 21, 2021

Moving image of a flower fountainUnder a bright and sunny sky, a student molds and shapes some red and green Play-Doh into the shape of a rose. Another student holds up a small solar panel attached to the flower. Then a steady stream of water begins flowing out of the petals in an arc. Across the sidewalk another student shouts out, “Yes!” and pumps his fist into the air as his handmade, solar powered fountain also begins spouting water. These fourth graders outside Lake Marion Elementary are creating solar fountains as part of a circuits unit in their STEM class.

Teacher Kim Menard working with students“We are learning both how to conserve or use less energy and also how to use energy more efficiently with new technology,” said Kim Menard, Lake Marion STEM teacher.

The fourth grade students in Menard’s class carried buckets of water, solar panels, water pumps and other components outside on a sunny Friday. They used wires to attach small solar panels to water pumps surrounded by their Play-Doh creations. Students placed the pump into a tray filled with water. Once the panels were pointed up to the sun, the pump started sending water through an attached tube, creating a fountain-like arc of water. Some groups created a single fountain. Others teamed up with other groups to create combined fountains that poured into each other’s pools of water, allowing each fountain to keep working without running out of water.

Students working on solar fountainThis lesson on circuits is weaved together with lessons on renewable energy, a topic that Menard is passionate about.

“One of my heroes is Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya. She changed countless lives by planting trees, which renewed the landscape, ending erosion that polluted water, cleaning the air, offering food, fuel, income and beauty,” said Menard.

“Maathai tells a story called Be a Hummingbird, Do the Best you Can. Well, I am trying to do the best I can to use renewable energy to get kids excited about learning and to explore possible careers and behaviors that can help lessen our impact on Earth,” said Menard.

Student with a solar fountainThe solar fountain project is one of many learning experiences that are possible thanks to the support and donations from local businesses. The student sized solar panels used in the fourth grade solar fountain project were bought using grant funds from Dakota Electric Association.

Other donations include a grant from the Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce for a kit that mimics a city power grid, demonstrating the power of conservation with more efficient technology. Fifth graders were able to experience Power Grid City, tying their understanding of renewable energy with other energy sources. 

students with a solar fountainXcel Energy and Centerpoint Energy gave fifth graders “Take Action Kits” to take home to make their own homes more efficient. These kits included LED light bulbs, an LED nightlight, a showerhead that uses less water but keeps the same pressure, aerators for a kitchen and bathroom sink, and die tablets for testing toilet tanks for leaks.

“We have started to consider the sustainability triangle in our work. When we have a problem to solve, we have to ask three questions: Is the solution good and fair/equitable for people? Is it good for the planet? Is it profitable or at least possible financially? Where these intersect, we find sustainable solutions,” Menard said of the renewable energy lessons her students have learned.

“Renewable energy does not offer one-size-fits-all solutions, but we are having fun exploring it over students’ time in STEM. Local support is helping us do this at Lake Marion Elementary,” said Menard.

Solar fountain