Falls Church High School geosystems and biology teacher Brian Schwenk engaged his students in a renewable resource unit by weaving in some pop culture: he challenged them to use what they had learned to develop a zombie apocalypse survival kit project. Falls Church High School is a Fairfax County public school.
Schwenk—a current Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellow—was reviewing various types of energy sources, including renewable resources, with his geosystems class. To help the students understand practical applications of what they were learning, Schwenk teamed up with head librarian Laura Potocki to develop a project that would help the students not only learn about the various environmentally friendly sources, but put them into action.
Students first learned about solar, wind, and water renewable energy sources. They were challenged to choose one of sources, research multiple designs for that energy source, and put it into practice. Students worked in groups to design the project, then were given a scenario that grabbed their attention: a zombie apocalypse. The scenario stated that all non-renewable energy sources had been wiped out. Their challenge was to develop a zombie survival kit that included the development of their chosen renewable energy source.
Using donated objects (including pieces of wood, empty plastic bottles, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, dowels, string, and more), they worked in groups to develop and test their projects. Some of the student-developed projects included a small water mill (made from a plastic bottle, wooden dowel, and panels covered in plastic wrap), a solar panel (made from a pizza box, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap), and a windmill (made from wooden pieces). The students also had to describe to the class the advantages and disadvantages of their particular renewable energy source.
During a gallery walk of all the projects, the students were able to share ideas and discuss solutions. They regrouped with their own teams, shared what they learned, and made adjustments to their projects. To conclude, students reflected on the project itself as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the various energy sources.