Revealing the hidden ways we use energy in our daily lives
Sunship III is an earth education program for young adolescents designed to help them understand the flow of energy beginning in natural systems and into our daily lives. Participants spend three days and two nights at a residential environmental learning center. To better understand the hidden ways we use energy, participants take an journey from the “Sun” to “Earth” and continue to follow the energy until it ends up in a pizza they eat for dinner, along the way learning not only about the sunlight energy passed through the food webs that lead to their pizza but also the fossil fuels that are used to grow & harvest the crops, process and transport the food, and cook it – and the consequences of that energy use. During the entire three days, they must pay for all of the energy and materials they use during that time with “Solarians” (units of sunlight energy). Participants make choices each day about the Solarians they will spend, the energy they will use. When participants return back to home and school, they visit people who are working to use less energy and materials as they work on their own lifestyle plans.
Our studies of the Sunship III program with several hundred students at three different locations have included a pre- and post-program ecological concept inventory (Ecological Concept Questionnaire), a pre- and post-program values & attitude instrument (Model of Ecological Values), individual interviews with participating students, program observations, and a case study of a group of participants. Results show consistent and statistically significant gains in ecological understandings, particularly related to the flow of energy, and changes in environmental values & attitudes. Students also report increased actions to reduce energy and materials use in their own lives.