Energy-Based Case Studies in a Wide Spiral Curriculum
We can promote problem-based learning with case studies that let students examine various aspects of energy. Because energy is so important in such a wide range of subject areas — in natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) applied to space & earth (in astronomy and cosmology, geology and oceanography, plus environmental, weather, and climate studies) and in social sciences (economics, politics,...), history, and applications for engineering and business — energy can be a unifying concept for a wide spiral curriculum. Or case studies can be used in a single class, independent of what other classes are doing.
For example, students can think about the many factors involved when in the summer we cool a building by using air circulation to supplement (or replace) air conditioning. During this design project, students can learn (and learn how to use) a variety of energy-related concepts, including energy transfer (as heat or by convection, radiation,...), insulation, and heat capacities (of building materials, air, water,...), plus air circulation, weather (temperature differences between day and night), and the economics of energy in relative costs (of money & energy) for air circulation and air conditioning, the many benefits of energy conservation, weighing short-term and long-term factors (of one-time investments, maintenance costs, cumulative yearly energy savings, resale value, externalities), and the practical & economic differences in designing a new building, retrofitting an old building, or using resources already in an old building. They can study Cool Biz in Japan for the influences of culture, clothing, and the effects of air flow (cool breeze in summer, cold draft in winter) on evaporative cooling and convective energy transfer, and physiological effects (plus psychological placebo effects) on the physical & mental efficiency of humans. And what about analogous strategies for staying warm in winter?