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The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades

NORTH LIBERTY– Cooking hot dogs, shooting off rockets and riding bicycles might sound like typical summer camp experiences. However, when you cook hot dogs in solar-powered potato chip cans, launch rockets fueled by hydrogen cells and ride bicycles connected to electricity generators, summer camp takes on a whole new meaning.
That’s the idea behind the many hands-on, fun learning stations offered at a one-day workshop conducted by Linn County Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) on July 15 at the North Liberty Recreation Center.
The workshop, “Power Up the Future with Energy Smart Kids,” is designed to teach kids in first through fifth grades about energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Beginning with a large group discussion that used light-up ping pong balls to teach the basics of electrical circuits, workshop activities utilized every-day items in uncommon ways to demonstrate solar, wind and hydrogen power. The goal of the activities was to get kids thinking and talking about how energy is produced and used.
For example, a bicycle hooked to a generator produces electricity to power different types of light bulbs on a display board. As kids pedal, their motion lights up an energy-efficient, compact fluorescent bulb. When a switch is flipped to instead power the typical, commonly-used incandescent bulb, the bike becomes much harder to pedal. This demonstration proved incandescent bulbs require more energy, whether from pedal power or the electric plant.
Making pinwheels would delight many kids, but when pinwheels are made in conjunction with observing a model wind turbine, children begin to understand wind as a renewable energy source.
And when kids see cookies baked in a box and hot dogs cooked in a modified Pringles can with nothing more than the heat provided by the sun, they become hungry to know how it all works.
Donna Kula, an energy advisor with Linn County REC, helped organize the second annual event.
“We figure if we educate the kids early, and talk about energy efficiency and renewable energy now, they will go home and talk about it with their parents,” Kula said.
Approximately 270 area children came to be enlightened, including scout groups, daycare and summer camp kids and individual children who brought along their parents. The workshop is sponsored by REC and the Central Iowa Power Cooperative and conducted by employees and volunteers from those organizations. The day camp has been held just once each year, but Linn County REC makes education a year-round effort, through their elementary school presentations on electrical safety and a recently-launched middle school program to teach energy efficiency.
“It’s great to introduce these topics to school-aged children,” added Kula. “It helps them think about things they can do at home to make a difference.”
Perhaps students won’t go home and make a solar-powered vehicle, like the one brought to the workshop by the Iowa State University’s Solar Car Team, but they might remember to shut the refrigerator door after learning about Energy Hogs, or point out the now-familiar Energy Star label next time mom and dad buy a new washing machine.
Certainly, they might be inclined to plant a few more trees at home after talking about the energy benefits of shade and planting some trees, donated to the city by Linn County REC, on the grounds of the North Liberty Recreation Center.
In the end, the day is about more than planting trees; it’s about planting seeds of ideas that will grow into a better tomorrow, noted Kula.
“At the end of the workshop, we gather the kids together in a big group again and everyone gets a pair of sunglasses,” she said, “because the future looks very bright with energy-smart kids.”