Hands-on power

Published 5:47 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gifted fourth- and fifth-graders at Northern Shores Elementary School will be building — and powering — their own green, energy-efficient houses next month.

Learning about energy will be more hands-on than usual this year, thanks to $1,500 grants from both the Dominion Foundation and Northrop Grumman Foundation.

The foundations are the philanthropic arms of Dominion Resources and Northrop Grumman Corp. respectively. Both foundations award educational grants to programs that are specifically geared to science, technology, engineering and math studies.

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Much of Dominion’s grant will be used to fund a field trip to the Surry Nuclear Power Station in March, said Nina Valdivieso, a gifted teacher at Northern Shores.

The remainder of the two grants has been used to buy Power House Green Essentials experiment kits. Each kit provides the materials for student teams to carry out more than 40 experiments that focus on alternative energy and how it affects the environment, Valdivieso said.

The kits will allow the students to build houses out of Styrofoam and conduct experiments using various renewable and non-renewable energy sources, Valdivieso said. The houses stand about a foot and a half high, and the kits give students the equipment to heat them using energy-friendly equipment, like solar panels and wind turbines.

The hands-on experiments and opportunity to tour the nuclear power plant make science more exciting for students, she said.

As part of Northern Shores’ gifted program, called QUEST, participating students will share their findings with other fourth- and fifth-grade classes, Valdivieso said. That’s important, because Standards of Learning testing for fifth graders covers energy and energy resources, she added.

With the so-called STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and math — becoming a focal point in education today, Valdivieso has recently launched an after-school STEM Club for girls at Northern Shores. Six girls, randomly selected from the third, fourth and fifth grades, will have the chance to explore different aspects of science and technology during nine monthly meetings.

Participants at the November meeting learned how to write software code, and in December, they will learn about robotics from engineers, Valdivieso said.

“I just want to expose them to the possibilities and help them develop an interest in science and technology,” she said.