Educational Outreach

The U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) has taken a novel approach to bioenergy education and outreach by targeting 4th-6th grades. BESC has developed lesson plans to educate and inform students about the basics of energy production and utilization. BESC has utilized a novel hub-and-spoke approach of working through regional science centers to maximize the direct hands-on access and adaptation to local conditions. These include basic concepts such as the carbon cycle, lignocellulosic biomass as a substrate for the production of biofuels, as well as technical and economic obstacles to a biobased fuel economy.  Lessons were piloted in schools in Georgia and Tennessee and were made available to schools nationwide in the spring of 2010. A series of Science Night programs offered to students and the general public through local schools, museums and community centers have reached more than 116,000 students, teachers, and parents in face-to-face interaction—over 36,000 in the last 11 months.  We anticipate more than 150,000 by 2015.

Key Elements of  BESC Outreach

Hands-On Lesson Plans

  1. BESC in collaboration with the Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, developed hands-on lesson plans for students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.
  2. Farming for Fuel lessons educate students about the carbon cycle, lignocellulosic biomass as a substrate for the production of biofuels and the technical and economic obstacles to a biobased fuel economy.
  3. These lessons include educational objectives such as measurement and graphing (of sugar content), microscopy (for plant and animal cell structure), and climate (the carbon cycle).
  4. These lessons can be executed by trained staff and volunteers within a school or at a Science Night event.

Family Science Night Events

  1. An expanded number of portable experimental work stations for Science Night activities were presented as part of parent-teacher organization meetings, school open-house nights, gatherings at community centers, town libraries, and other local venues to inform the general public about biofuels and bioenergy.
  2. In the last 2 years,170 Science Nights were presented nationwide reaching more than 25,000 students, parents and teachers.

“Hub and Spoke” model

This model allows national outreach using partnering with regional science centers and museums. Over 6 years, the outreach program has steadily expanded from Chattanooga across Tennessee to hubs in Georgia, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, New York, Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, and Utah.

  1. Twenty museums in 13 states are using the Farming for Fuels curriculum and activities. Over 1,200 students will be served in 2014 through alternative energy/biofuels curriculum and hands-on distance learning activities.
  2. BESC and CDM provide equipment, supplies, and training to the staff at each regional science center hub. BESC also provides start-up support for 100 lessons at each hub for its first year and 50% support for 100 lessons in its second year. 
  3. A marker of self-sustaining success is that now 75% of the support for the hands-on activities now come from the schools, hubs, and other sources.
  4. A ‘kitchen science’ version of the lessons is posted on the BESC website for use by the general public or in any school, museum, or even home around the country.
  5. Pre-service teachers are taught about the science of bioenergy and biofuels and trained to teach the outreach lessons in the schools where they serve as student teachers.
  6. This approach has enabled BESC to steadily increase hands-on science contacts to over 36,000 in the last year and over 116,000 students, parents, and teachers in the past 6 years.

Distance learning for national outreach via “app,” website, and “Ask a Scientist”

  1. In the past two years, BESC and CDM have continued the hands-on activities but emphasized the use of technology to increase their outreach.
  2. The Road Trip Challenge is a free educational game “app” that teaches strategies for energy use. Students design their own cars and select types of fuel to travel between regional science centers. Five routes are now ready for download; three more routes or “legs” will be ready in 2015.
    1. The game was prototyped and is now exhibited in interactive kiosks, which are placed in five schools, museums and other educational venues.
    2. The free  iPad “app” is available for download in the Apple App store under the educational category. The game incorporates lessons to explore fuel efficiency and fuel availability (e.g., electric and E85 cars) as well as the environmental impact of fuels.
  3. A new biofuels outreach website (www.learnbiofuels.org) was designed and implemented by BESC and CDM.  After 12 months of planning, design, and programming, the website launched in January 2014.
    1. Enhanced curriculum and activities were added during the summer of 2014.
    2. Website videoconferencing capabilities will be available for museum and science center educator training sessions and special presentations by BESC staff by late 2014.
    3. During the past 8 months, over 1,250 users sessions have resulted in 4,271 page views to date. The website has had more than 3,000 hits in the last 6 months!

Janet Wespheling

Contact Us

Dr. Janet Westpheling (janwest@uga.edu)
Activity Lead for BESC Education and Outreach activities
Genetics Department, University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30622

BioEnergy Science Center one of three DOE Bioenergy Research Centers established by the U.S. Department of Energy.