New Myrnam School is a K-12 school of less than 150 students about two hours east of Edmonton (and a little bit North) in the town of Myrnam, Alberta. It is nestled in rolling hills surrounded by agriculture farming. Keith Gamblin, the principal, expressed the challenge faced by many rural schools: “Families are looking for schools that have programs that are of interest to their children, be it sports, drama, or academics and will send their students to other schools. We needed to find something unique that would help attract families and students to our K-12 school.”
The Village of Myrnam constructed a Career Training Education Centre (CTEC) that can be used by the community, the school, as well as providing a hub for the new Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre. Keith Gamblin worked with the teachers and encouraged teacher Robert Tymofichuk to join the team - a teacher with a strong IT background and a love for innovation and fabrication. They secured an A+ for Energy Grant from Inside Education and started their first project - a tower garden and passive solar greenhouse, designed and constructed by students. That sparked their next idea: “How could we engage our students in cross-grade, cross-curricular project-based learning experiences that would get students and families excited about the learning opportunities at New Myrnam school and prepare students with skills they will need for their future?” They applied for and received a second A+ for Energy Grant from Inside Education and an Alberta Emerald Foundation Youth Environmental Engagement Grant to help with their next year-long endeavour, Designing Renewable Energy Systems.
In the past year, students designed and constructed an outdoor eco-classroom, which can be used by the school and community for various outdoor education pursuits. Upon completing the classroom, students in grades four through 12 worked in three teams - team solar, team wind and team bio-fuel. Their challenge was to find the most cost effective and efficient way to power their outdoor off-grid eco-classroom using only renewable energy. Team wind students tested prototypes and then built their own wind turbine. Team Solar developed a prototype and then built a solar array single-axis tracker with seasonal adjustment using an old grain auger. Team biofuel tested and built their own biofuel generator. Students showcased these on April 25th at the annual spring showcase.
At the showcase, It was easy to see how the school is the hub of the community - the parking lot and street were packed and you could hear the buzz as you walked into the new CTEC building where students presented and showcased their projects. There were many questions from family and community members. Team Solar student, Lucas shared “I love the hands-on projects at our school. It’s much better than just classroom learning and seeing us actually build it, that was the best part.”
Team Wind student Caitlin shared, “It helped me build new skills - shop skills, wiring skills and construction skills.” I think every farmer was intrigued with using an old grain auger to provide the structure for the solar tracker and I’m sure these will be popping up around the community. Teacher Danielle Eriksen mentioned, “During the February cold spell when buses weren’t running, students were still coming to school so they could work on their projects in the afternoon. We’re already noticing the interest from students outside of the community as well.”
The school also received the Energy Efficiency Champion Award in June at the Alberta Emerald Awards Event (see video below) and received $1000 to continue their project-work next year.
At the Alberta Emerald awards in Edmonton, I asked science and CTS teacher Robert Tymofichuk about their plans for next year. “We will be working on our third A+ for Energy Project - Minimizing our Carbon Footprint Through Community Collaboration," he said. "The project involves designing and building an energy efficient commercial hydroponic system for growing food for our community. We will be using the energy-metering technology we installed in the CTEC facility through the Alberta Council for Environmental Education’s Energy Revealed program to closely monitor the energy required to grow produce. We will then analyze our carbon footprint so we can compare it to using produce from non local sources. The energy-metering technology will also be used in our Environmental Stewardship series of CTS courses to analyze energy usage data, allowing us to look at ways to reduce our energy consumption.”
I look forward to connecting with the school next year to follow their progress and to see how these projects continue to prepare students for their future - a future focused on innovative solutions. I hope this provides inspiration for other schools, especially rural schools on how project-based learning connected to meaningful projects is one way to get students and families excited about learning opportunities in their local school. Learning opportunities that develop new skills - skills needed to create a sustainable future.