By. Keith David Reeves, Technology Coach, Discovery Elementary School (Arlington, VA)
August 21st, the day of the recent solar eclipse, fell between the end of Summer School and the start of the regular school year, but the 1,706 solar panels at Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia didn’t know that. Judging by the number of families who joined us, neither did our kids.
The Arlington community experienced 81% totality at 2:42 PM in the afternoon, and we had dozens of excited kids and parents to join us on our Solar Plaza. The Discovery Solar Plaza is a solar calendar and clock, complete with equinox and solstice lines and concrete placards that were placed by kids during a special lesson when our school was built in 2015. The sun spot shone through the oculus creeping toward the “3” marker as children used certified solar glasses provided by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum alongside pinhole cameras made from makerspace cardboard, colanders, and even “hashtag” fingers that one student showed adults how to make.
This was a fun community learning experience, and we wanted to go further. With 81% totality, we wondered with our students if our solar cells would see an 81% decrease in solar power generation. Fortunately, at Discovery, we can answer this question easily using the systems-integrated Discovery Energy Dashboard.
The Energy Dashboard displays real time data on power generation and consumption, and provides information about the building, its signage, its learning environments, how much food we donate, how much recycling we do in the Dining Commons, transportation data (such as how many walkers and bike riders we have), and more. By capturing and time-accelerating a display of the Energy Dashboard’s data, we were able to watch (in addition to clouds passing by!) the gradual decrease in solar power generated from the start of the solar eclipse through and just past the 81% totality we experienced.
The results provided a powerful, authentic example for our students in how to use this resource to explore their school, ask meaningful questions, and dive deeply into real data that comes from their own school and community.
One of Discovery’s priorities this past year was to meaningfully engage in improving the math performance of our most at-risk kids. We passionately care about ensuring we don’t sacrifice authentic learning, exploration, and student voice and choice on the altar of statistical improvement. We believe passionately that we can do both, through our child-centered practices and progressive standards-based pedagogy, and in one year we were able to improve the skills for those at-risk students by over 27%. The Energy Dashboard provides a powerful platform to visualize authentic data in child-accessible ways, and gives teachers a vital, ever-evolving resource to use in teaching across the curriculum.
One of my favorite instructional opportunities every year is going into classrooms to teach our student friends how to access the Dashboard, which resides in the cloud and is accessible anywhere, anytime, on any device. While we have large touch displays in the foyer and on our rooftop Solar Lab, we also provide a link on every student’s 1:1 iPad as well as a link from our website. By ensuring students can always access this real time data, as well as the raw data and the visualizations back in time to the beginning of our data collection, we provide an ever-increasing set of information upon which we can build authentic learning opportunities across curricular areas, ages, and interests.
You can find the instructional video we made to talk about our Eclipse Math at https://discovery.apsva.us/post/eclipse/ and you can access the Discovery Energy Dashboard yourself at http://discovery.apsva.us/dashboard.
Discovery Elementary School was the launchpad for the U.S. Department of Energy Zero-Energy Schools Accelerator, is a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School, and is a recipient of the Eco-Schools USA Green Flag Award for sustainability practices and education. As the largest Zero-Energy elementary school ever built, and on track to be certified LEED Platinum, we host friends and colleagues from around the world, and we welcome you to stop by anytime you are in Arlington, Virginia.
Keith Reeves is the Technology Coach at Discovery Elementary School, the largest Zero-Energy elementary school ever built, and is the author of Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children. Visit him online at www.KDReeves.com.