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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 20, 2010

Westmere kids build a solar cooker to save the Earth

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Amy Martin believes in inquiry learning, where the kids are the driving force.

On Monday afternoon, her fourth-grade students at Westmere Elementary School were measuring, cutting, gluing, and driving screws as they built a solar cooker for their school.

“We’re making it to save energy, so we won’t use gas and pollute,” said Haemin Hwang.

“We got the money from NYSERDA,” said her classmate, Sean Gordon. “They’re trying to save the environment in New York.”

Earlier this school year, Martin had a postcard on her desk from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that one of her students, Hugh Smith, spotted.

“They wanted to build a solar panel,” recalled Martin with a smile.

“Our whole class has been into saving the earth,” said Sean. “That’s why Mrs. Martin let us do this.”

“We wanted to do it in the first place,” said Ben Klamka. “Now, we’re really into it.”

The class ultimately settled on a project that was easier to build than a solar panel and would have a practical use at their school. The fourth-graders filled out the NYSERDA application themselves.

The application had six categories; the six groups of students in Martin’s class each tackled one. They wrote about how to reduce climate change and make better energy choices to help the environment.

The fourth-grade social-studies curriculum involves discussion about renewable and nonrenewable resources as part of the study of the state’s history, said Martin.

After receiving the grant, Martin’s class took a trip to General Electric’s renewable resource plant.

“We saw solar panels,” said Gauri Subramaniam.

“We saw a really big one and we saw miniature ones that move,” said Haley Golderman.

“We learned that GE has a wind turbine in Germany that is the tallest in the world,” said Rachel Taber. “It’s 60 stories big, twice the average height.”

“At GE, we actually got to stand next to the solar panels,” said Madison Lengyel.

“We saw something that looked like the wing of an airplane,” said Gauri. “It was the blade of a wind turbine.”

“They have a computer that shows what windmills need repairs,” said Derek Liu, whose father works at GE.

Above and beyond

Crediting her students for their initiative, Martin said part of her worried what would happen if they did get the grant. She is pregnant, expecting her second child on June 18.

The class was awarded $400 for its project.

“I’ve spent well over that,” said Martin in a matter-of-fact tone, without a hint of complaint in her voice. She added up some of the biggest costs: $103 to pay for the bus to GE, $340 for lumber alone. She still has to buy a metal base for the cooker and a glass cover.

“As a teacher,” she said with a shrug, “you’re used to spending a lot of your own money.”

The kids were being helped by Joe Hilton, Martin’s father, and by Bob Marino, the father of one of her students.

Martin described Marino as a solar expert. He had a business installing solar panels in the 1980s, he said. He called the cooker project “easy to do.”

Teaching others

Angelina Regule and Lily Call made up a song about it. In a high, clear voice, Angelina sings the song, reminiscent of the rhythms of an old-fashioned jump-rope rhyme.

“Photovoltaic cells,” she intones, repeating the phrase with different inflections, and clapping intermittently.

A band of boys has written a song, too. The band includes Christopher Bellcourt and Ben Klamka on the piano, Hugh Smith on the tuba and Sean Gordon, singing. Two boys in other classes are also in the band — Ben’s brother, Josh, and Noah Cohen-Greenberg.

The band is called the Tix. “Noah wanted us named after a bug, like the Beatles,” explains Ben.

Ben and Christopher composed the tune as a duet on the piano and Sean made up the lyrics.

Three of the boys on the work crew — Sean, Ben, and Christopher — spontaneously broke into song on Monday. “We got the grant,” they sang. “We got the stuff. We got the knowledge, plus we didn’t even have to go to college. Shine, shine, shine on.”

Later, surveying the bare wood of the cooker, Sean said, “I came up with a cool idea for painting this, not exactly flames…I saw this play, The Wizard of Oz, and it looked like a slithering plant, with red and yellow in it, it looked like fire.”

“Neat,” said Martin. “Maybe we could paint that on a black background.”

The kids are looking forward to donating their project to the school.

“At the end of every school year, we have picnics and usually use gas grills,” said Sean.

“We don’t want to do that anymore,” said Christopher.

“We’re going to use it to teach other people,” said Sean. “I’m going to make one at my house. I told my mom about it.”

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