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Recently, a local school district decided to start charging teachers for personal use of “refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, pizza ovens, toaster ovens and toasters” in an effort to save over $12,500 per year in energy savings (read full story).

The cost for using a coffee maker?  $10.  While this is a seemingly small fee for a convenience, maybe there is an alternative solution to help save money (and energy) and keep everyone happy.

Energy Efficiency: Not all coffee makers are created equally in their energy consumption.  Why not choose an energy efficient model?  A thermal coffee maker (like the Cuisinart DTC-975) uses less energy than a standard coffee maker, as the brewed coffee is stored in an insulated carafe.  Thus, there is no energy wasted heating a burner underneath a glass pot.

Economy of Scale:  Why not consolidate a few coffee makers into fewer, more centralized pots?  On my floor alone, there are at least 3-4 coffee makers that are used daily and often make only half pots each.  Having fewer pots that make a full pot at a time would reduce multiple uses of heating elements.  It makes sense to avoid single-cup brewing machines.

Opportunity to Learn: Combining both of these ideas could even turn into a class project, where students could use wattage meters (like the Kill a Watt meter) to monitor coffee makers to identify the most energy efficient models and brewing practices.


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In the recent issue of Edutopia (Nov/Dec 2007, Vol. 3, # 8), Mitch Martin describes about how a good teacher must be bad at something to be good at teaching (Mr. Martin’s Oopses, page 10). I must admit – I’ve been thinking about this article a lot lately in both teaching and beyond.

Martin describes his attempts at learning how to play guitar, in how he had juggle practicing with his family and job – all the while feeling the exact frustrations and distractions that his students experience in his classroom.

After reading that passage, I instantly remembered back to my student teaching seminar, when the professor asked us “how can you relate to students who don’t care about getting good grades?” Coming from a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, most of us in the room were highly concerned with our grades. Getting grades was easy – empathizing with our students was hard.

After many years, I think that Martin offers at least a possible solution – put yourself in your students’ shoes. Translation: try something new where you might have to struggle a bit to succeed. Martin believes that “the best teachers are the ones who have struggled and succeeded.” I am reminded of a wise colleague of mine (now retired) who always told me that any good idea always starts with a LOT of fumbling and error.

So I challenge you all to make this your New Year’s resolution. Try something new – something in which you may have to struggle a bit in order to succeed. Not only will it enrich your life, but you’ll be able to better empathize with your students and it will make you a better teacher.

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Last night, Oprah visited with Bill and Melinda Gates to discuss what she called a “silent epidemic” – graduation rates and educational structure in the US. Some frightening statistics about student dropout rates and preparedness were quite shocking, whereby the Gates called for educational efforts that should be focused on teaching students the skills they’ll need to be competitive in the world ecomony of today and into the future. Check out the what Oprah has to say on “American Schools in Crisis.”

This sentiment was also shared in Edutopia, a magazine distributed (free for educators!) by the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF) – founded in 1991 as a nonprofit operating foundation to celebrate and encourage innovation in schools.

Check out “Risky Business” (the edutopia article) by James Daly. It raises some provocative questions about the state of public education, and what needs to be done to allow for a successful future for out children.

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