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Middle schoolers tackle Nordson energy challenge

CARLSBAD — Science is helping lead the way to address energy concerns, even in schools.

At Calavera Hills Middle School, along with the two other schools in the Carlsbad Unified School District, students put the finishing touches on their entries for an essay-based competition sponsored by Carlsbad-based Nordson Corporation.

In Aaron Sottile’s eighth-grade science class, students were challenged with which alternative energy source provides the most promise in the future. As for the essay, it can come in a traditional manner or through a poster or brochure.

“We’re embedding it with our energy unit,” Sottile said. “There’s also a section about human impacts. We decided this was a good place to combine those efforts. The products are highly variable … and there is no one right answer to this.”

The winning entry for each grade level is awarded an iPad mini and the department for each school receives $500 if 75 percent of the student body participates. There will also be a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) assembly, Sottile said.

Calavera Hills Middle School eighth-graders Luke Peterson and science teacher Aaron Sottile review Peterson’s submission for the Nordson Corporation’s alternative energy challenge on Feb. 5. Photo by Steve Puterski

A solar car design challenge is also part of the unit, but separate from the Nordson competition, he said. Students will build a small solar car, the size of a toy car, incorporating electrical energy, circuitry and other concepts.

San Diego-based Sullivan Solar Power does a yearly solar car challenge, which Sottile said he is attempting to enter this year. If not, it will just be a school challenge.

“We’ve done exercises with how solar panels work,” Sottile said. “We bundle all these different concepts into this design challenge.”

The students, meanwhile, are learning more than just science and engineering. The challenge, along with other coursework, pushes the middle schoolers to include critical thinking and problem solving skills, along with how to present a concept.

While some students use wind or other alternative energy forms, Miles Call and Taryn Stivers, both 14, are each working on solar projects for the Nordson challenge.

Taryn said her research has led her to present why solar is the most efficient and cost-effective method moving forward. Also, she said, it reduces pollution and the sun is a constant source with an incredibly long lifespan.

“It’s a healthy energy to use,” Taryn said.

Miles said it is the second cheapest alternative energy source to generate, next to wind power. Like Taryn, he said the lifespan is a huge plus, and other organisms use the sun to “power themselves.”

He noted plants and trees use the sun for photosynthesis, which synthesizes food from carbon dioxide and water.

“I like how we got to see how energy is transferred into potential and kinetic,” Miles said.

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