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Energy Education in Texas Faces Challenges

We recently took part in a discussion with a group of Texas science teachers about the need for an energy curriculum in Texas public schools. Most children have no idea what it takes to power their cell phones, provide them with clean water and allow Amazon to deliver their games. How is it possible that in the nation’s top energy-producing state — the state that is responsible for a third of natural gas produced in the U.S., leads the nation in oil production and wind power generation, and has made the U.S. a global energy powerhouse — that our children know so little about where energy comes from and the advantages and disadvantages of each energy resource? The science teachers we spoke with outlined the challenges for us.

First, they feel unprepared to discuss the environmental impacts of extracting and using fossil fuels. They’ve all read news headlines about earthquakes and hydraulic fracturing, but, unfortunately, no one has explained to them that the likely cause of the earthquakes is disposal wells sited on old fault lines, not drilling operations.

Second, they weren’t aware that renewable energy technologies also have environmental impacts. The rare earth metals in hybrid car batteries, wind turbine generators and solar panels are largely extracted in China, as companies in the West have shut down their rare earth mining programs. While wind and solar energy resources are clean and abundant in Texas, the technologies used to harness them do have an environmental footprint that should be understood. It is important that our students learn about all facets of the energy options available in Texas.

Third, geosciences are de-emphasized in the new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards. These standards govern information and analysis that Texas students need to master in order to pass and graduate. Without an understanding of geoscience, it’s almost impossible to talk about how Texas energy resources are produced.

Fourth, the link between energy and quality of life is missing in the discussion. Our life expectancy, air quality, income and access to clean water have increased significantly over the past centuries because of energy, and much of it is produced here in Texas. This is one of the most important messages for our children to hear, because to fully appreciate and understand energy production in Texas, they need to know how it impacts their lives; and they should be proud of their state for making the world a better place. Texas Energy Education Project Thanks to a collaboration between the Texas Natural Gas Foundation, the State Energy Conservation Office and the Texas Regional Collaboratives at The University of Texas at Austin, science teachers will have a high-quality energy supplement to teach their students about natural gas and other Texas fuels. The Texas Natural Gas Foundation is assembling an advisory panel, led by Dr. Ken Morgan, to provide expert information to curriculum writers as they revise the energy supplement to reflect current knowledge and practices about Texas energy.

Halliburton American Gas - Upstream with solar panelsThe Texas Energy Education Project (TEEP) curriculum supplement will be a multi-year project. As units are developed, they will be rolled out and tested through the Texas Regional Collaboratives’ extensive network of classroom science teachers. The previous supplement generated nearly 750,000 unique website visitors annually, demonstrating demand for high-quality educational curriculum about Texas energy. Although the units will focus on Texas energy, they are designed to be picked up and customized by other states.

The first units will cover:

• Energy Resources: serves as an introduction to the course and will address basic questions, including “What is energy?” and “What are the forms of energy?”

• Energy Economics: looks more specifically at examples of energy resources currently available and explores their costs and benefits.

• Energy in Your State: explores in-depth the energy resources that are abundant in Texas. The Texas Natural Gas Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. One of its main projects is to produce and distribute this energy curriculum for Texas students, with an emphasis on natural gas.

We need to educate our students and their teachers about our abundant Texas energy resources and the vital role that they play today in supporting our schools and our economy, and properly prepare students for jobs in the energy sector of the future. If you are interested in joining these efforts, visit www.txng.org.

Jason IsaacAbout the authors: The Hon. Jason Isaac graduated with a degree in marketing and a minor in management from Stephen F. Austin State University. He serves in the Texas House of Representatives serving Blanco and Hays counties. As a small-business owner, he has focused on making the trucking industry more efficient, profitable and safer.

Ken MorganDr. Ken Morgan obtained degrees in geology, environmental engineering and resource management prior to taking a position as a professor at Texas Christian University. In 2008, he founded the TCU Energy Institute.

Photo credit: Goodluz/bigstock.com

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