Charged up about learning
Program teaches about electricity, energy conservation
Bill Harris helps area school students realize the power of electricity and how to conserve energy.
The CEO of Renewable World Energies LLC helps dispel some of the mystery about electricity but hopefully none of the appreciation.
After telling eighth-graders at Niagara school in Wisconsin how Nikola Tesla accidentally discovered that interrupting an electric circuit many times a second will boost the voltage, Harris asked, “Why in the world did it take human beings tens of thousands of years to discover electricity?”
“Because you can’t see it,” student Brady Behnke suggested.
“Exactly,” said Harris, adding “To see something is to believe it. If we can shock you safely, we will, because that way you will agree that something is there.”
So he did. While engaging students in the “bird on a wire theory,” Harris demonstrated how electricity flows along the path of least resistance by letting them experience a low-voltage shock. It helped the students understood how they can become electricity conductors.
To “engage their minds, engage their hands, engage their sense of purpose,” is the key to teaching, Harris said.
Which is why his non-profit foundation has offered
such education for nearly 28 years.
Students at several local school districts — including Iron Mountain, Kingsford, Norway and Iron River, plus Niagara and Florence in Wisconsin — have participated in programs on electricity and magnetism. Elementary, middle and high school classes have had hands-on learning about Lenz’s law, Jacob’s ladder, and how the Tesla coil works.
Iron Mountain middle schoolers participated in the energy program, using generators, batteries and meters to learn about the power of renewable resources. The students measured the energy in their work, including an energy bike to demonstrate the horsepower. Harris also brought in LED lights to prove they use less energy than older lighting options.
Several classes even had the opportunity to cook their own lunch using solar energy.
In continuing the experiments, student Isabel Jacobs brought her pre-kindergarten cousin, Jace Neuens, to help prove why birds don’t get shocked when they sit on electrical wires.
They are not good conductors of electricity, she explained — then demonstrated on her cousin.
“It was amazing. I liked being shocked,” Jacobs said. “I learned about voltage and current, and that little kids don’t get shocked as easy as big kids.”
Another student in teacher Nicole Anderson’s class thought using a chain of kids to illuminate a light bulb was a magic trick.
“It’s not really magical; it’s physics,” Harris said.
Anderson thought having Harris work with her students was “amazing, exciting, memorable and a literally shocking experience for them.”
“I love seeing my students step out of their comfort zones to participate in all of the hands-on activities that Bill conducts with the class and the teamwork that this creates within the classroom,” she said.
Niagara fourth-graders participated in several experiments, such as burning paper and graphite pencils, all while being taught high-voltage safety.
“If you understand something, it’s a reason to not be scared by it. The more you fill your brains with knowledge, the less afraid of the world you will be, because you will understand it,” Harris said.
In addition to the in-school programs, the Renewable World Foundation also offers Day at the Dam, an on-site renewable energy station tour that covers water safety, boating safety, electrical safety and environmental effects.
The RWF gives students other learning opportunities such as the Isle Royale Education program, open to any interested middle schoolers for a small fee, that takes them across Lake Superior from Grand Portage, Minn., to Michigan’s Isle Royale.
Harris brings the students a conservation program that teaches preservation, protection or restoration of the natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation and wildlife. He instructs a water resources canoeing program that takes students into the watershed and shows them the resource, how to keep it clean, what steps hydro facilities take to monitor the water entrusted to them, and complete small tasks that help the facility.
The RWF also coordinates a summer program that gives students a chance to hike for weeks in Colorado, Maine or Canada.
“As the classroom teacher, I look forward to continuing my own learning through Bill’s classroom presentations and demonstrations, as he brings scientific equipment and experiments into the classroom that we would otherwise not be able to experience. Bill is a wealth of knowledge and has many life experiences that enhance his presentations and bring them to life for the students,” Anderson said.
For more information on the Renewable World Foundation, go to www.renewableworldfoundation.com.
Theresa Proudfit can be reached at 906-774-2272, ext. 45, or firstname.lastname@example.org.