Educational Outreach

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 substrate for the production of biofuels, as well as technical and economic obstacles to a bio-based 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

Farming for Fuels lessons reach thousands of students through “hands-on” science activities

  1. The DOE BioEnergy Science Center 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 substrate for the production of biofuels and the technical and economic obstacles to a bio-based 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.

Science Night events reach thousands of families

  1. An expanded number of portable experimental work stations for Science Night activities were presented as part of PTO 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 nation-wide reaching more than 25,000 students, parents and teachers.

“Hub and Spoke” model

This model allows economical outreach national outreach using partnering with regional science centers and museums. Over six 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 the CDM provide the 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 were they serve as student teachers.
  6. This approach has allowed 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 six years.

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

  1. In the past two years, BESC and the CDM have continued the hands-on activities but emphasized the use of technology to increase our outreach.
  2. The Road Trip Challenge is an educational game “app” which teaches strategies for energy use. Students design their own cars and select types of fuel to travel between regional science centers. Legs 1-3 are released; Legs 4-5 target a November release, Legs 6-8 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  iPadTM “app” is available for download in the Apple App store under the educational category. The game incorporates lessons to explore fuel efficiency, fuel availability (for example 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, special presentations by BESC staff, by late 2014.
    3. During the past eight 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!


Contact Us

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


Visit the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center Education and Outreach Programs website

Partnership with the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TN

BESC's partnership with the Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has led to the creation of the "Biofuels Resources, Games, and Issues" portal on the CDM website. Visit the site to learn more about biofuels research via news, activities, videos, and games.


Biofuel Road Trip Challenge iPad App

Road Trip Challenge teaches strategies for wise energy use. Students choose and customize a vehicle, then select types of fuel, and travel to familiar destinations across the country. The game also incorporates lessons to explore fuel efficiency, availability, and environmental impact resulting from choices that are made during different legs of the game. Road Trip Challenge can also be used in interactive kiosks in museums and other educational venues. Ask about how your facility can obtain a kiosk for your exhibit area. To see a kiosk in action, visit the Creative Discovery Museum.


Lesson Plans for 4th, 5th, and 6th Grades

In partnership with the Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) in Chattanooga, Tennessee, BESC has taken a novel approach to education and outreach with the development of lesson plans aimed at 4th, 5th, and 6th grade-level students to educate and inform students about the basics of energy production and use, including the carbon cycle, lignocellulosic biomass as a substrate for production of biofuels, and technical and economic obstacles to a biobased fuel economy. These lessons were beta-tested in schools in Georgia and Tennessee and have been made available to schools nationwide.