Environmental engineering is the focus of hands-on learning course

by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Sixth-graders Alex Moreau, left, and Alex Alberte try out a scale model of their solar-powered car.Watching wind turbines whirl atop a tall building, concocting biodiesel fuel and creating solar panel cells occupied area students Calvin McHenry, Max Goverman and Nick DeGrood last week.

The three were on a roster of 11 students in the inaugural environmental engineering course that local science teachers put together through the Lake Oswego School District’s Community School.

“This is the most fun science camp I have ever been to,” said Max, an incoming Lake Oswego Junior High School seventh-grader.

The aim of the hands-on, five-day camp, held at LOJHS, was to help bridge the transition from junior high to high school. Sixth- to eighth-graders were introduced to concepts they will revisit in-depth in high school.

“I want to see if this is working in a couple of years when I see them in my classroom, if this is a good introduction for them,” said Tom Smith, a Lake Oswego High School REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Chris Burdick, left, and Clay Lucas, both seventh-graders, use a solar reflector to make biodiesel out of cooking oil.

Smith partnered with Lake Oswego Junior High teacher Greg Mylet to organize the camp. The course also was intended to get students excited about engineering and to keep up with education trends, Mylet said.

“I have done summer camps before, but, engineering education, it’s coming more to the forefront in science education, and so, we’re making sure that we’re (providing) more of it,” he said.

Activities included building model turbine propellers, transforming vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel and using it to power small lamps, creating solar-powered car models, combining blackberry juice and titanium dioxide to form solar cells, composing videos in iMovie and heating marshmallows in solar ovens.

Students took home red T-shirts with rocket ships on them and the words “Science Squad” on the front, a special moniker for the school district’s science teachers.

“Making the biodiesel was kind of cool,” said Nick, who will be a seventh-grader this fall at LOJHS. “It was fun. It was interesting.”.by: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Anthony Koch works on a video presentation of his team members Ben Suhler and Emily Bell explaining their project.

To apply the lab work, the students caught a TriMet bus, run with biodiesel, to Portland to visit Vestas Wind Systems, which manufactures, sells, installs and services wind turbines. Vestas, a Danish company, has its North American headquarters on Northwest Everett Street.

Calvin said he loved visiting Portland and taking a gander at some turbines atop an apartment tower that power the high-rise and are set to resist wind at different intensities. So, the blades of each turbine spin at different speeds, some whirling more slowly.

“The ones that were tight would create more energy,” said Calvin who will be an eighth-grader this fall at Rosemont Ridge Middle School in West Linn.

Mylet said having fewer students in a class than he does during the school year offered the chance to more fully delve into complicated topics and employ more experiential learning techniques.

“I have 150 kids during the course of a day, but I couldn’t possibly buy material to do these projects with all of them,” he said.

Mylet and Smith also try to hone their own expertise. The pair comprised half of a team of teachers who in 2011 participated in the educator skill developing Teaching From Space program at NASA in Houston.

Smith, who has taught for eight years, said he respects the knowledge Mylet has accrued as a 22-year veteran of the classroom.

Smith said he gained valuable experience through instructing the camp. It was the second time he’s worked with solar cells, and he grew more comfortable teaching the lesson; it was the first time he’d asked students to assemble turbine models. He’d like to bring back the camp next summer.

“It gave me a chance to try things I’ve wanted to do during the school year,” Smith said.

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Tom Smith is the brother of Review Reporter Barb Randall.)

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