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Submitted by Jerry Bernstein
In California, 511 Partnership Academies (CPAs) align their curriculum with the State's 15 career-technical industry sectors. These academies, small learning communities within larger high schools, usually enroll students in grades 10-12. Each year, CPA students take classes together, including core academic subjects and at least one career-technical course related to the academy’s career theme. Of the CPA's 67 focus on energy-related themes. What a perfect opportunity for the CA/HI Regional Training Provider (RTP) to reach out and train Academy teachers who teach energy-related courses.
Back in October 2011, the CA/HI RTP, led by the Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO), explored this possibility, offering two one-day training programs at partner community colleges for CPA and high school science instructors in the San Francisco Bay and San Diego areas. “What we discovered,” said Jerry Bernstein, “was that these sessions were woefully inadequate due to their short duration.” So in December, with California Energy Commission (CEC) staff, Bernstein and the CA/HI RTP hosted two webinars to discuss training options and alternatives with CPA and high school faculty. The results? “At least a 3 – 4 day training session that would support faculty for teaching courses of 6 – 8 week durations,” said Bernstein.
Fast forward to February 2012, and the Energy Academy faculty gathers for their annual three-day conference in Sacramento. Since 21 of the 67 academies received California Department of Education grants for an expanded academy model focusing on clean energy technology and renewable energy, Bernstein and the RTP deftly modified the schedule and supplemented the conference with 3½ days of PV instruction and exercises in conference rooms and on-site at American River College (ARC), one of the RTPs college partners. The SITN program provided each attendee with texts, handouts and selected equipment for subsequent class use (including a Solar Pathfinder). One instructor from Hawaii came to assess this training for their high school programs.
“We felt like this approach was just the right one,” said Bernstein, “ based on comments received from evaluations, like ‘practical, real world applications,’ ‘good information to share with students,’ ‘(beneficial) hands on demonstrations,’ and ‘opportunities to learn from experts and other instructors.’ According to Bernstein, the evaluations indicated that PV instruction could be divided into about six logical topics, which could be taught one per week as an academy PV course.
The range of experience of the attendees was broad. Some had strong electrical backgrounds, while others came from biology and chemistry disciplines. Some found the training too long, others too short. “Our efforts to train people with very different backgrounds and experience will need refinement,” said Bernstein. “And despite the (literally) truckloads of equipment brought by the instructors at American River College, even more hands-on activities are necessary.”
Just a first step, but the CEC and CDE are evaluating results and reviewing ways to expand and extend renewable and other energy-related trainings to these academies and other high school faculty based on this model. But if the evaluation results were any indication, the decision to reach out and train Academy faculty in solar PV curriculum is a solid one. “This training dramatically improved my understanding of PV principles and how they can be taught to our high school students,” said one attendee.