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Upper El (Mr. D): Hydroelectric Power & The Challenger

We had a really cool week with a field trip, continuing our science fair, and ending with a fun experiment--connecting our current topic with a bit of science history.

Monday, we prepared for our field trip by diving into the 3 main challenges of energy––producing it, distributing it, and storing it. We started with the producing part. The challenge is that the energy we'd like to use (mainly electricity) needs to come from somewhere else first. Students offered their thoughts on what is meant by renewable resources and non-renewable resources.

Then, we played a little game. Printed on strips of paper were the main energy sources that the United States uses for energy. Some are renewable, and some are not. One at a time, someone would come to the whiteboard with a few choices. They could place one of the sources under renewable or non-renewable, they could switch one that someone else placed to an alternate category, they could place a dot next to a source to secure it in place, or they could erase a dot opening it up to be moved on the next turn. This game is always a lot of fun and leads to some good debating.

After three rounds, we stopped, and everything was exactly in the right place! We then went over an infographic showing these energy sources and the percentage they are used in the US.

Next, we discussed the other two problems: distributing and storing energy. On our field trip, we would hear about all of these challenges.

Tuesday, we visited the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Plant. Wow! We are a lucky group. Our tour guide, Trevor (head of hydro and solar for east coast Duke Energy), took us behind the scenes to see how things work. Students learned about energy load and how distributing energy can be a challenge when the demand for it becomes more sudden (like on our cold few days back in December). We then explored below where they perform maintenance on the giant turbines and walked inside where the rotor would spin when the system is running.

Trevor explained how so many pieces work together to generate electricity and all the engineering and thought that goes into making a hydro plant come into being. We then made our way outside to the tops of the turbines, overlooking the spillways and the river below. Afterward, we had some fun at the Energy Explorium, running around outside, enjoying the hands-on exhibits, and playing a little hide and seek.

On Thursday, we explore elasticity with a historical example. Albeit a tragedy. That of The Challenger disaster. This tragedy was caused by the effects of temperature on elasticity. O-rings that should have expanded and contracted were stuck in place due to extreme cold, causing a leak and an explosion.

In class, students walked through a lab to test the same question: does temperature affect elasticity? We used bouncy balls. Some at room temperature, some submerged in ice water, and the rest in hot water.

Students had to first devise a way to measure the heights of each bounced ball before they could go off and test. After they had their measurements, they reflected on the results. It was a fun experiment. Afterward, we watched a very short clip of Dr. Richard Feynman's famous experiment on national TV, where he debunked NASA's claim that the cold morning of The Challenger's flight had no effect on the elasticity of the O-rings. This a classic example of how experimentation can offer us some irrefutable proof.

Next week we'll work on our Science Fair reports and begin focusing further on our catapult designs.

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