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Wind on the Mind

By Staff | Feb 13, 2013

As a way to benefit schools looking to offer better education in science, technology, engineering and math, Florida Power & Light has awarded two teachers in Lee County $1,500 in grants to fund classroom projects which aim to teach students about energy.

And one of them teaches seventh grade at Oasis Middle School.

Lori McLain earned her $1,000 award through her students participating in “Wild About Wind,” where her students will learn about wind turbine technology by determining the efficiency of blade designs and materials.

“I wanted to do a section with seventh-graders on renewable energy. I do environmental engineering with my eighth-graders so to get them ready for that next year, I wanted to do something big for them to get them to understand renewable energy,” McLain said.

For the school it is the second grant it has earned this year. The first was a $1,600 grant to enable the same group of kids to build underwater, remotely operated vehicles.

“They learned a lot about building motors and thrusters, and were set up perfect to understand how to generate electricity and an Ohm meter,” McLain said.

McLain said the kids are already getting the gist of it. One student wanted to put the turbines out on the roof and run wires to the classroom so they can generate enough electricity to charge their cell phones.

The grant money will be spent on 12 wind turbine kits that are 24 inches high and have 36-inch blade diameter. They will be used to do work, such as lift up buckets, and to test blades for the electricity it can produce.

Kimberly Clements, a first-grade teacher at Colonial Elementary in Fort Myers, will earn a $500 grant to help teach students what energy is, how it impacts force and motion and where we can see it in everyday life.

“I was looking for ways to incorporate science and technology into what I’m doing with them so I can do character education things and connect it to science,” Clements said.

Julia Wakefield of FPL said the company knows there isn’t enough hands-on funding for the science, which is why it has gotten involved.

She added that those who are chosen must follow strict guidelines.

“The teachers are chosen based on very objective evaluation of their proposal,” Wakefield said. “How many students will it benefit, what kind of topic does it touch?”

The awards range from $500 to $2,500 per project, based on the proposed budget and number of students that will benefit, and come from the NextEra Energy Foundation, which is funded FPL’s parent company, NextEra Energy.

Maureen Wilt, education program manager at FPL, said she wanted a credible science program that gave out grants with validity rather than give it out from community to community.

“The teachers need clear objectives, they need a budget that makes sense within our parameters,” Wilt said. “We look at objectives and what benchmarks they will teach to. You need to tell us how you measure success.”

Award recipients are selected by the National Education Energy Development project (NEED), a non-profit organization working with energy companies and agencies to bring energy curriculum and training to the classrooms.

This is the fourth year FPL has offered its teacher grant program to support education about renewable energy sources. In that time, 175 teachers have received a total of more than $175,000 for classroom projects.

“There’s a world of gratitude to FPL for allowing our STEM program to expand beyond the classroom. These kids are amazing. We have these kits now so we can teach them every year,” McLain said.