Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How technologically green are you? How technologically green are you while teaching your students?

This is my blog post from TechLearning February 26, 2008. Enjoy!
This blog post is very different from most of our blog entries for the TechLearning team. We usually have blog posts introducing you to something that happens in classrooms or schools which could have implications for your students. Today is a little deviation.
During our school vacation, many of us in Northern New England have a week off from school, I had an opportunity to take a winter hike and stay over at a hut. A visionary, Larry Warren, President and founder of Maine Huts and Trails, started with an idea, to bring nature closer to more people in a non impact way, year round manner. He has worked with forest companies, individual land owners and the Penobscot Indian nation to get folks to agree to let others walk across their lands. There are no motorized vehicles allowed on these trails.
Many of you will be cringing at the idea of a winter hike, complete with 4 feet of snow in the woods, cold temperatures of less than 15 degrees F(-9.4C), and finally to top it off a sustained wind of 10 MPH for a whopping wind chill of 3 F, - 16 C. Did I mention the crystal blue skies, mountains looming in the distance, steep hills that we traversed both up and down, the whisper of the beech leaves as they danced while clinging to the trees, and the pine needles huddled together on branches reaching towards the ground?
If this sounds like an adventure to you thus far, you should add to your reading list the Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv .

So far, where is the technology? Normally when hiking in the woods you make sure you have matches, a jack knife, such things as hand warmers, blanket, water and some kind of high energy food, just in case. Just in case the weather turns bad and you have to camp right where you are hiking, or you get lost. You might recognize this as your backup plan. We had all of those, and an extra set of clothes to change into, and a sleeping bag. Anyone of these items could be the life or death of a hiker.

We hiked in from the trail head of Maine Trails and Huts located in Carrabassett Valley, ME for 2.5 miles. The hike in was great, the trail was well marked, we met lots of other hikers and cross country skiers who were out for an afternoon hike. We were the only ones going in for an overnight. We didn't stop and take many photos as we were on a time crunch to get to the hut before the sunset.

Finally, we had a glimpse of the huge solar panel in the woods, then we saw the lodge. From the outside, without the solar panel, it could be a lodge anywhere in the woods. Here is the technology part, the hut although 3 miles in the woods, 3 miles from a local power source, is powered by the solar panel, a hydro-power turbine from the stream, a wood fired boiler, the floors are heated by radiant heat. Now the technology part comes into focus. The solar panel takes the solar energy and stores it in battery cells for later use. The hydro-power turbine takes the water force and turns it into energy like heating the 800 gallon tank of hot water reserve. I asked Jamie Corriveau, the operations manager, for a tour of the power supply for the hut and had a real treat. Downstairs in the basement of the cozy lodge is the tidiest set up and the hub of the hut. Jamie explained that there is a huge amount of technology coordinating all the different systems, each piece has to send and receive messages throughout the day in order to keep the floors warm, the solar panel energy in use or going to the backup battery cells, and the lights and heat maintaining a certain level based on outside light and temperature.

Upstairs the first floor the main hut is outfitted with huge pine/cherry tables and sturdy chairs surrounding a fireplace, a huge drying room where all the damp clothing is hung to dry out with a reverse air process, a kitchen large enough to cook for 40 guests, a huge warm shower/bathroom facility and a loft just right for reading or playing board games. All the guests sleep in outer bunk cabins which also have radiant heated floors, comfy bunks and enough windows to enjoy the moon and stars during the night. What no outhouses? Well, the toilets are composting toilets which use only 3-6 ounces of water with a drop of soap which cleans at each use when all the waste drops into a huge hopper in the basement which composts the waste, drains excess filtered liquid and only has a wheelbarrow full of removable compost after 4 years. No, there is no odor!

We were very comfortable and enjoyed being away from the technology that most of us live with every day. Despite our greener experience the kitchen is outfitted with all the conveniences necessary to cook up great meals. Our two cooks managed an incredible meal of Jambalaya , fresh baked bread and carrot cake. In the morning they cooked up bacon and scrambled eggs on the wood stove! This hut in the woods is a perfect stop for a sleepover or a bowl of soup and fresh bread. Just being part of a greener hiking system has really started me thinking about how to encourage young people to think about our daily lives in a different manner, a greener, more environmentally friendly manner. So, how technologically green am I teaching my students to be? I will be sharing more and more stories like this one, how about you?
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