Watt Watchers of Texas: Texas is Too Good To Waste™

The past two years have been full of surprises. In person restrictions continue to be implemented around the world and pose a unique obstacle for educators. Although most schools have returned to in-person learning, having in-school guest speakers and field trips are still not available for many schools. With the start of the new school year in full swing, educators everywhere are now faced with the challenge of making up for lost options and continue to use their creativity to create exciting activities and lesson plans to use in their classes. Thankfully, the successful implementation of virtual learning in the classroom over the past year and a half has demonstrated that we can adapt to new circumstances no matter the obstacles and has inspired many to continue using their creativity to supplement their lessons with virtual experiences and programs. Smart Energy Education has an abundance of online resources for teachers and students - and now we’re happy to launch a new opportunity for schools; the SEE Virtual Field Trip series. 

Through the SEE Virtual Field Trips, schools will have access to live presentations with experts in the energy sector such as author, professor and energy expert, Dr. Michael E Webber. Developed in partnership with SECO, CPS Energy, Itron, inc. and The University of Texas at Austin, the Virtual Field Trip program aims to boost energy and water literacy while giving students more information about jobs in the energy industry. Today students have more choices after graduation and for their future careers. Picking which career you would like to pursue as a student can be an incredibly stressful and daunting process, however having a professional who is an expert in their field walk the class through their experience and job responsibilities can be an excellent resource. Our SEE VFTs provide everything mentioned above in an interactive 30 - 45 minute session, which easily fits into planned lessons.

Virtual Field trips offered by Smart Energy Education create a special experience because they allow for both the ability to talk to an energy expert in real time as your class learns about the industry and energy systems while also offering the option to watch a pre-recorded presentation with interactive games and videos. This way, no matter the time restrictions an educator might face there will always be an opportunity to participate in the program. Additionally, the SEE team will work with teachers so they can choose the energy or environment  theme that best aligns with their classroom needs. 

Why should you sign up your class for a SEE VFT? Because learning energy is important. Energy is critical to our survival. Plus, no matter what students are interested in, they will be amazed to learn about the key role energy plays in our daily lives. On a SEE VFT they’ll learn valuable ways to help save energy, save the environment, and learn about technical and non-technical energy career options. 

Do you have questions or want to learn more? Our team is ready to assist you. So contact us today to schedule your SEE VFT!

Watt Watchers of Texas was established in 1985 as a program designed to help schools save money by saving energy. In the early years Watt Watchers primarily focused on the Student Patrol Program, where students would walk through the hallways of their school in groups looking out for signs of wasted energy (such as lights left on in unoccupied rooms). To help the school improve, the Student Patrols would then give a “ticket” reminding those who left lights on to switch them off next time. This process gave students a sense of responsibility and ownership of their school, and a special power to make a difference in the environment. 

Since then the Watt Watchers program has grown and evolved. While the Watt Watchers website can still help schools create their own StudentPatrols, today it also gives visitors access to videos, games, timely blog posts, activities and lessons that K-12 students can use to learn more about energy and sustainability. This growth and development has been overseen by author, professor, and energy expert Dr. Micheal E. Webber at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Webber also oversees the Webber Energy Group; a research organization that analyzes energy and environmental problems at the intersection of engineering, policy and commercialization. The students, researchers, and staffers who work at WEG are passionate about sustainability and energy conservation so it's no surprise that a WEG researcher is also a former Watt Watcher.

After participating as a Watt Watcher in elementary school, Kelsey Richardson grew up wanting to make a difference in the energy industry. Kelsey’s fourth grade teacher Mrs. Thomas, at Oak Hill Elementary School, introduced her class to the energy saving program.  Although Watt Watchers is voluntary, Kelsey jumped at the opportunity to help her school and the environment. “Most of what I remember during my time as a Watt Watcher involved walking around the elementary school and switching off the lights in unoccupied rooms. I also was given a binder with Watt Watcher tips and a Watt Watcher pencil. I remember feeling very official and like my job was saving the world”, explained Kelsey. Being environmentally conscious and making proactive decisions about energy use was always made a priority at home, she continues. Turning off the lights when leaving a room and taking shorter showers in the summer were some of the habits her father instilled in her from a young age and were contributing factors when deciding to become part of the Student Patrol. 

Today, young people are very aware of environmental problems around the world. A study conducted by NPR that surveyed 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 in 10 different countries discovered that the majority of the people spoken to were incredibly worried about the environment and believed that the world's governments are not doing enough to combat climate change. These attitudes have only become more widespread over time. But programs like Watt Watchers can help; through hands-on activities and lessons, educators and parents are able to provide an outlet where students can actively create green habits and help reduce the stress environmental change can cause. As Kelsey recollects, “my fourth-grade self saw these behaviors as small steps towards saving the world from climate change - a global issue which terrified little anxious me.” 

Once in high school, Kelsey’s curiosity for energy-saving led her to a school mentorship program that connected students to industry professionals - this is where she met Dr. Webber. Through her mentorship, she was given the opportunity to attend research presentations from engineers of all different disciplines on a multitude of energy research projects. Realizing the applicability that engineering can have on conservation and sustainability she was inspired to pursue her passion for green energy through an engineering degree. “I was deciding between Chemical Engineering and Environmental Engineering for my major. After talking to some folks at UT, including some WEG members, I was given the advice that a Chemical Engineer can do most of the same jobs as an Environmental Engineer, plus additional Chemical Engineering specific jobs,” she says. “As an 18-year old who couldn’t plan for a week from now, let alone four years from now, the additional flexibility that came with a Chemical Engineering degree sounded very appealing.” What the mentorship, and ultimately her becoming a part of WEG meant, is that it gave Kelsey exposure to research projects and opened doors for jobs. As an undergraduate research assistant for WEG, she worked on projects relating to the accessibility of utility solar programs, the utilization of interstate highway right-of-ways for solar energy generation, and the equity of decarbonization of the Texas grid. And in a twist of fate, in early 2021 everything came full circle for Kelsey when she helped create virtual learning resources for Watt Watchers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Kelsey was able to take her school experiences, research knowledge, and fond memories of Watt Watchers and turn them into lessons to help inspire young students. 

In May 2021 she earned her bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and a certificate in Environment and Sustainability. Now, she is continuing her hard work and dedication at University of California, Santa Barbara pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering.

Previous generations seem to have swept environmental issues under the rug. Pollution and global warming were not taken seriously and the consequences over time have become more apparent. Now more than ever we need solutions to make a healthy future. The next generation of students now have the opportunity to make a huge impact in saving the planet. Watt Watchers not only helps students learn about the importance of energy and water sustainability and conservation, but for some students - like Kelsey Richardson - it might also put them on a path to a career in energy. The world needs more innovative minds like Kelsey working to solve the problems that have been created. So if you’re an educator or a parent, consider using Watt Watchers at school and at home - starting an energy patrol today might lead to a rewarding career in energy tomorrow. 

October is one of the most memorable months of the year. We get to feel the Fall weather settle in and with Halloween just around the corner, there are plenty of reasons to be excited. But there is more than just pumpkin spice and spooky decorations that make October special. Declared by President George Bush in 1991, October is also Energy Awareness Month! Energy is one of the most influential components that contributes to the functionality of our modern day lives. We use energy to produce food, clothes, transportation and much more. Over the years, energy pioneers such as Nikoli Tesla and Benjamin Franklin made giant technological breakthroughs, leading to innovating inventions we take for granted every day. As technology has continued to advance over the years, our easy and seemingly unlimited access to electricity, water and food has made us forget the important steps needed to make the energy we use every day readily available.

Designed to make sure Americans become more aware of energy resources and the importance of proactive thinking when it comes to energy use, it is essential to take advantage of Energy Awareness month, especially as parents and educators. Taking some time in October to reflect on current energy practices in your home, school or company is what it's all about. Often energy and sustainability are not prioritized and inevitably they are overlooked as the years go by. But this does not mean you can't get things back on track. Creating an energy awareness game plan can make it easier to understand your energy habits throughout the year. A great way to start is to complete an assessment of how energy is being used and distributed in your home or organization on a daily basis. Analyze how the system in place could be more efficient and determine what actions need to take place to make this possible. Something as simple as turning up the air conditioning when you leave the building could help save energy and cut down your utility bill significantly.

Saving a couple hundred or thousand dollars each month is definitely something to look forward to. However, understanding the need for sustainable energy practices starts with being conscious of the consequences our actions have on our natural resources and the impact that our energy use has on our environment. Unlimited energy access can make the reality regarding the longevity of fossil fuels and water resources seem foggy and a problem for future generations. However many of the obstacles we face now such as water scarcity and contamination are directly impacted by the habits you develop in your own home. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average American used an average of 893 kWh per month in their home in 2020. This energy is created through different resources such as coal and nuclear energy as well as renewable resources like water and wind energy. Often we end up using more water by keeping the lights on in empty rooms than we use to drink and shower. Taking some time to learn about these energy sources could significantly impact your view on energy use, and maybe even prompt you to think twice before you leave a light on in an unoccupied room. 

Lucky for you, Watt Watchers  has all the resources you need to stay up to date on all things energy! Through our Watt Watchers program you can educate your children or students by taking them through interactive activities and fun learning games to make energy and sustainability an exciting part of their day. For any middle or high school students looking into a career in energy, try also going through the Resourcefulness eCourse, where they will have the chance to gain a more profound understanding of the energy-water nexus through articles, short videos and quiz questions. Finally, if you are an adult and are fascinated with energy and see yourself starting a career in the energy industry, make sure to check out Energy 101. Created by The University of Texas at Austin professor and energy expert Dr. Micheal Weber, Energy 101 has everything you need to gain the foundational knowledge on energy and the energy industry. At the end of the day, Energy Awareness month is all about being aware of our energy resources and making educated decisions about how energy is used. After all, energy is everywhere and is one of the fundamental necessities we need in our modern day lives.

For more information regarding our energy programs check out our Welcome Back to School Smart Energy Education blog post!

With the fall semester in full swing, it's time to start thinking about all the amazing learning resources available at your fingertips. Watt Watchers is here to help you add excitement to your classroom through hands-on activities, project-based lessons, games, and short videos.

Watt Watchers is a STEM program created to help boost energy literacy for K-12 students - and ultimately - to help schools and families save money by saving energy. Through a wealth of online and downloadable resources that educators and students can use at home or in the classroom, Watt Watchers teaches students about the importance of energy and water, while also providing ways we can create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

Who Can Use Watt Watchers? 

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about many challenges for students. Virtual school led to new obstacles, often creating an environment where it is more difficult to stay motivated. However, Watt Watchers helped many students stay active and motivated about saving energy and the planet during this time. Throughout the pandemic the Watt Watchers team worked hard to keep the program current, and to modify the program for our at-home learners. Even though most students are back to in-person learning, we still spend a lot of time at home, so why not take the opportunity to learn new and improved ways to use the energy you have more efficiently? Now, not only can students take advantage of Watt Watchers resources at school, but they can also apply those energy saving tips at home. After all, turning off the lights adds up fast, and who doesn’t like to save money? 

So, no matter where your current learning journey is - at school, or at home - you, your students, and families can take advantage of the Watt Watchers program. 

Getting Started

If you need some recommendations on where to start your Watt Watchers journey, check out some of our most popular activities. This includes our meter reading, water conservation at home and calculating showers activities. Did you know the average American uses eighty two gallons of water per day? Despite the accessibility we have to water, we often lack the information necessary to make the appropriate decisions when it comes to water usage. Being more aware of the systems used to make water accessible to you will encourage you to be more thoughtful about how that water is used. 

Our Solar Oven Smores activity is also a big hit with students and families! It is no mystery why students everywhere are eager to make smores at home. This is a fantastic way to make a delicious snack while demonstrating how energy is used for everyday activities. By giving the students an opportunity to use direct energy resources on a smaller scale where the use of energy resources is more obvious, they open the door to learning about how energy resources are used all around them to make their daily activities possible. A student might complete this activity and develop a better understanding of how the sun could help power someone's home, or get an idea for a new way to use solar power. By taking some time out of your day to learn how to calculate your water usage, or how to use the sun's energy to make a great desert, you can make a huge difference in how you use the energy in your home. In effect creating lifelong energy friendly habits or even inspiring a student to think about energy from a more innovative perspective. 

Start Your Energy Education Journey Today

Watt Watchers is an excellent resource for educators, students, and families looking to learn more about energy - and to save energy. If you are interested in STEM topics, or if you simply want to save a little extra money each month, make sure to visit our website to learn more about the resources we have to offer. In combination with our partner programs and sponsors, there will always be something new for you to learn and incorporate into your everyday life!

Watt Watchers of Texas is a Partner Program of Smart Energy Education.
Watt Watchers of Texas. Copyright © 2021 The University of Texas at Austin. All Rights Reserved.
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