Sustainability in Bioenergy Academy for Teachers (BEAT) : changing perspectives and practices toward "greening" the curricula Mitra, Madhumi; Nagchaudhuri, Abhijit; Shirvani, Courtney; Henry, Xavier
A holistic approach of sustainability grounded in environmental concerns, also incorporates the dimensions of culture, economy, and social justice. It can be an added attraction bringing together various disciplines to explore pathways through which sustainability can be addressed in a practical manner. A one-week summer institute on Bioenergy and Bioproducts for educators from middle and high schools, and university faculty across STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Mathematics) disciplines was hosted by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). This program is geared towards helping reform educational infrastructure by promoting multidisciplinary activities and content in the areas of sustainability, bioenergy, and bioproducts. The objectives of the Bioenergy Academy are: 1) to provide a systems-perspective in sustainability, bioenergy, and bioproducts education to STEAM educators and researchers; and 2) to develop and provide curricular materials and a set of teaching tools to educators for enhancing instruction in the areas of sustainable bioenergy and bioproducts. The Academy focuses on lessons and activities pertaining to sustainability, systems thinking, renewable energy with particular emphasis on bioenergy, bioproducts, and environment and policies related to energy issues. The participants got the opportunity to acquire concrete experiences involving teamwork, time management, and project execution skills; reflected on their learning experiences through presentations at the end of the institute; developed concepts related to organic chemistry, physics, engineering design, instrumentation, mathematics, biological, and environmental sciences; and actively experimented with feedstocks to generate biodiesel and environmentally-friendly soaps using the glycerin produced from the biodiesel. The BITES ( Buildings, Industry, Transportation, Electricity, Scenarios) simulation tool developed by National Renewable Laboratory (NREL) of the United States Department of Energy (DOE) and made freely available over the internet allowed participants to play out scenarios to reduce carbon foot print based on those situations that can be realized through policy decisions leading to building improvements, reduction of industrial pollution, use of alternative fuels, electric cars, and other design modifications in the transportation sector, and cleaner and more efficient conversion technologies for electricity generation and conservation. A total of forty one educators have been trained through this program over a period of four years. The evaluation surveys (pre-and post) revealed that the educators gained substantial knowledge in the fields of sustainability, bioenergy, and bioproducts, and felt comfortable in implementing the content in their courses and laboratories.
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