The buzzers sound off one by one before 20 are shrilling together when their electric circuit is completed. Eighth grade physical science teacher Brad Burel moves through the tables as he answers questions. It is the second-to-last day of Georgia Power’s Get Into Energy Camp at CMS.
This year marked the fifth year for the camp, which is intended to give students a leg up on the basics of electricity: how it is generated, transmitted and moves through a circuit. The program, held at CMS and a week later at Woodland Middle School, broadened its focus somewhat for 2014 to include water.
“We shifted our focus a little bit this year because we talked a lot about the water and the water end of it: how Georgia Power uses water, how we have to conserve water,” said CMS physical science teacher Marilyn Kinney. “So we kind of focused the first part of the week on that, and we did a couple of little water activities. ... Because that’s a big thing for them now is to conserve their water.”
In addition to learning about water conservation, students at both schools learned how to test water for various levels such as acidity and oxygen and how the water is used to generate power through steam. The lesson in steam came in a demonstration involving small steamboats chugging down water-filled troughs.
Each day the students heard from Georgia Power employees about how they do their jobs, the skills they need in their work and the sheer variety of employment the company offers.
“So we’re just trying to take them through the whole process and not only from an education standpoint, but from a vocational standpoint as well,” Burel said. “These kids get to see different representatives from the plant and see the career opportunities that are available to them. We start off every morning [with] the employees that are working with us, they tell us a little bit about their job, what they do over there and they realize that running a power plant is more than just the lineman — that there’s a whole lot more to it. There are a lot of career opportunities that involve computers and maintenance and just all the many facets that they go into with the production of electricity and the transmission of electricity and the distribution of electricity.”
Georgia Power linemen, engineers, maintenance workers and employees in departments including power generation and truck dispatching spoke to the groups of CMS and WMS students over the two separate weeks the program ran. At the end of each week the students were given the chance to visit Plant Bowen itself for a tour of the grounds.
“It’s fun coming and interacting with schools and just to see their faces on Friday, you know, actually get them on plant site because their eyes will be big,” said Lisa Jones, a senior instrument and controls tech at Plant Bowen. “Because they get to see it from a distance, but for them to actually get on plant site and see how big it really is, it’s fun.”
In addition to providing tours and personnel to assist with the energy camp, Georgia Power also purchases most of the needed materials.
“They fund it. They basically kind of give us free rein, I’d guess you say ... they say, look, what do you need to teach this camp? They give us all the supplies,” Kinney said. “The backpacks, the notebooks, the paper, all these little kits of stuff they have bought. Then they say, ‘Is there anything extra you need?’ Like these little steamboats we bought this year. That was new.
“We’d never done that before, because we wanted to focus on the steam part because they use steam to turn the turbines to turn the generators. ... They’re just like, whatever you need, we’ll help you out and then they always send people to come help us.”
The kits included lengths of wire, alligator connectors, batteries, switches, miniature fans, a small light bulb and socket and the buzzers. Throughout the lesson students concentrated on first learning the difference between open and closed circuits before introducing additional components. Students then moved on to creating a simple engine using a battery, a magnet and coil of copper wire.
“We started at the very basics,” Burel said. “We started the week off with just water, talking about water and then we moved from water to steam and talked about the whole process of steam and using steam for mechanical energy and then went from that into magnets and magnetic power.”
Even though the lessons lasted only a week for each group, teachers said they could see the effects well into the next school year.
“Because in the traditional classroom we have to cover so much material so quickly, a lot of time it doesn’t allow for the hands-on activities of all the different concepts that we have to study and that’s the primary goal of this lab,” said Julie Grimes, an eighth grade physical science teacher at WMS. “We still do some of the traditional school lectures, explanations, worksheets, but it’s mostly hands on and discovery. The kids seem to retain that information much longer when they’ve worked with it and they see it and experience. That’s the benefit.”
Burel believed the program was “invaluable.”
“First of all, these kids are going into physical science next year and this gives them a great leg up on the curriculum for next year because we’ve studied electricity and so it gives them a great foundation into what they’re going to be doing next year,” he said. “It’s a great way for them to spend a week of their summer. It gives them an opportunity to meet their eighth grade teachers.
“... Hopefully there’s one or two scattered throughout and they become peer leaders. They can assist me with students that have trouble getting the concepts. They’re kind of my go-to people. When you ask that question and you hear those crickets in the background, they’re the people you can count on.”
Callie Cox, a CMS student going into eighth grade, signed up for the camp seeing it as a preview.
“It’s fun. I like it because I wanted to do more and learn more about what I needed to do in eighth grade,” she said.
Burel explained students had to apply for the camp and write an essay about why they wanted to take part. Approximately 20 students were chosen for each school’s camp.
“I just always liked making stuff and making things. ... I’m in scouts, so we do things like merit badges where you build circuits and build little motors for different things,” said Alex Banta, a WMS student. “It’s something I like to do. I just heard this was fun.”
Over the camp’s five years — not including 2013 as no camp was held, due to the explosion at Plant Bowen — the amount of girls taking part has increased.
“You [see] how many girls we have in here too. As many girls as we can get interested in math and sciences that’s awesome,” Burel said. “... I think the first year we didn’t have hardly any at all and now we’re seeing them at 50 percent and that’s great.”
Amanda Greenway was one student taking part in WMS camp.
“I like building circuits and trying to figure out why the electricity is not flowing,” she said. “I also wanted to tour Plant Bowen because I thought that would be cool.”
Plant Services Team Leader Angie Barnett said Georgia Power assists with the camp every year to help educate students on subjects the company uses every day and give them a boost.
“It’s just the right thing to do as a company our size, number one. We want the students to continue to be interested in math and science even if they don’t want to come to work for Georgia Power one day,” she said. “Math and science are used in every job I can think of and the neat thing about this camp, the teachers have told us who in their classroom next year — they can tell who has been through the energy camp. They have a leg up, a leg up on the curriculum for next year.
“... I love it. ... The first year we did this it took them forever to make the plans and now it’s so much easier. We’ve pretty much had the same teachers also all five years. They get excited about it just like the kids do.”