When students first show up to REcharge Academy, they have to answer a few questions: What do they already know about green energy? What are some problems they foresee when they hear the phrase “wind farm”? What happens when the wind dies down? Don’t windmills kill birds? Aren’t they an eyesore? Don’t they drive down property values?
Michael Arquin likes to start with the things people already know – or think they know – and work from there. That’s the idea behind REcharge Academy, the Minnesota-based educational initiative that will host a workshop this summer at the University of Rhode Island. More than anything, Michael wants to get people talking.
“We don’t do a lot of lecturing,” says Michael. “We know everybody comes to us with prior knowledge. So, we ask them: What have you heard about energy that sounds like a credible bad thing?”
A former science teacher, Michael is also the creator of KidWind, a national green-energy workshop for young students. He describes the KidWind Challenge as a kind of “pinewood derby” for children, who develop and test homemade wind turbines. In a way, the REcharge Academy is a grown-up version of this 15-year-old curriculum: Educators learn about the science, benefits, and politics of wind energy, in order to bring that knowledge to their own classrooms.
This month, the REcharge event at URI is notable for several reasons: First, Michael is partnering with URI’s Coastal Resources Center, with the Guiding Education and Math and Science Network (GEMSnet Program), the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce, and RealJobsRI. Michael hopes to attract about 25 local and 25 national educators to the three-day event. Meanwhile, KidWind is helping Rhode Island high schools develop a certification in wind energy, which will help train future energy professionals.
“Teachers will get to hear about environmental assessments, that kind of stuff,” says Michael. “We’ll have some panels on what a certificate program in this field looks like.”
Since it was started 11 years ago, the REcharge Academy has helped train more than 400 teachers from around the world. Incredibly, this is the first session that will focus on offshore wind energy; the Academy will finish off with a field trip to the Block Island Wind Farm. Most participants are eager, but there are occasional skeptics.
“The hardest teachers to crack are the physics teachers,” Michael adds with a chuckle. “They think they’re the smartest people in the room – and they usually are. But by the end, they can be heavily engaged.”