BEAM Initiative Raises Standards for Bioenergy Education, Inspires Next Generation of Scientists

The Center for Renewable and Alternative Fuel Technologies (CRAFT) at Eastern Kentucky University recently wrapped up its BioEnergy Activity Modules (BEAM) Initiative, which was launched two years ago to inspire the next generation of research scientists, community leaders, engineers, and educators to get involved in a sustainable bioenergy industry.

Through the Initiative, more than 18,000 Kentucky students have participated the past two years in interactive classroom activities that demonstrated bioenergy curriculum through hands-on learning.

The BEAM Initiative was administered through CRAFT thanks to a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and through partnerships with EKU’s Office of Regional Stewardship and Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET), and the Kentucky branch of National Energy Education Development (NEED).

"The BEAM Initiative provided teachers with materials and supplies that informed, involved, and energized students in developing an understanding and knowledge of bioenergy and how bioenergy affects their daily lives,” said EKU Extension Agent David Gover.

CRAFT research assistant Gary Selby, one of many who helped develop the BEAM activities, said: "Through BEAM, students began to understand important technologies that are changing the way we live. The BEAM kit activities helped students to understand the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.”

In July 2011, CRAFT staff sought to bolster a perceived lack of bioenergy-related curriculum in Kentucky schools by designing hands-on classroom activities that demonstrated fundamental concepts such as renewable plastics, fermentation for ethanol production, and using biomass as a source of energy.

“We understood that classroom teachers and informal community educators are really interested in teaching their students this subject, but they may not have the resources to develop targeted bioenergy curriculum,” said Brad Barnett, program coordinator for CRAFT.

William Bennett, environmental education specialist at EKU, noted that the BEAM kits "contain a nice variety of hands-on, minds-on activities that are useful when investigating alternative fuels and discussing environmental issues."

During the first year of the project, BEAM kits contained lesson plans for the classroom activities and supplies for up to 90 students.  In its second year, the kit was expanded by adding a new classroom activity, subject content, teacher guides tailored to the “5e teaching model,” supplemental classroom activities, and links to Kentucky core curriculum standards.

“We’ve made it a point to make the BEAM kits as ‘user-friendly’ as possible by focusing on the educators’ needs inside the classroom,” said Barnett.

The BEAM kits were easily adapted to be age- and ability-appropriate. “One of the nice things about it,” Bennett said, “is that all of the required consumables are included."  Also, the kits proved useful in engaging student interest in STEM disciplines.

More than 240 kits have been distributed to Kentucky educators. The kits are no longer available, but all curriculum materials are still available online for teachers to download at www.craft.eku.edu/BEAM. Some in-class demonstrations are being done on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve been extremely pleased with the interest in the BEAM Initiative from Kentucky teachers,” Barnett said. “Each year, we’ve run out of kits, and that shows a strong desire by Kentucky educators to implement bioenergy and sustainability curriculum in the classrooms.”

In addition to the updated BEAM kits, CRAFT hosted two workshops for Kentucky educators to demonstrate and gain feedback on BEAM kit activity modules.  Two workshops were held on the Richmond campus in August.  Twenty-three educators (both formal and informal) attended the workshops and supplied invaluable feedback on how to make activities more useful to their students and ideas on how to improve the activities if the project is renewed.

CRAFT Director Bruce Pratt said the BEAM Teacher Workshops were beneficial for teachers who attended as well as for CRAFT staff.

“The teachers had the opportunity to experience the activities, which increases the chance of the kits being used in the classroom,” he said. “CRAFT was provided with feedback, which will help to improve the next generation of kits.”

To learn more about BEAM and browse the library of BEAM activity documents visit www.craft.eku.edu/BEAM.

Published on October 26, 2012