The Smart Home: Where Science, Technology, and Sustainability meet at the Museum of Science and Industry

It is so important to use “top-notch” science curricula. As gifted expert Joyce VanTassel-Baska observed, “[p]erhaps no curriculum area better captures the natural curiosity and intellectual spirit of gifted students than does science.” Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners, p. 196. In 2001, my students and I were introduced to one of the finest science curricula through the Jason Project’s Frozen Worlds, www.jasonproject.org, a study of the forces behind and impact of climate change in the Polar Regions. My students were hooked. They made an i-movie called “Planet in Jeopardy,” outlining the causes and effects of climate change and offering up their own solutions to reduce carbon emissions, ranging from novel farming techniques to cooking in a solar oven. Ever since then, we have been following changes in climate and urging those in our community to adopt more sustainable lifestyles.

Recent technological innovations have made it much easier to reduce our carbon footprint. The Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry is a terrific example of sustainable living. Yesterday, some former students and I went to the Museum to visit the Smart Home. We were awed.

I’ll give you a peak at what’s featured:

• A Wind Turbine
• Rain barrels and native plants
• An Automation system that monitors energy usage throughout the home
• Cybertecture mirror that delivers time, temperature, news and traffic, with access to Facebook and more (my students’ favorite)
• Huey the Color Copying Chameleon Lamp (in the boy’s bedroom), using two LEDS and an optical sensor to match the color of any item it sits on in a room

Not only does the wind turbine power the house, it creates so much energy that it also powers a portion of the Space wing of the museum. As one of my former students observed, the greatest benefit is that “high tech does not equal high energy.” Very astute!  Designers are role models for innovation and conservation.

Gifted students thrive on “hands on” opportunities to investigate innovative solutions to real problem and to explore the relationship between science and technology. Take the touch screen design for the Automaton.  My students were fascinated by how it worked.  Was it similar to the design for touch screen voting?  My students also made connections about sustainability. Sensible to use bamboo flooring in the house; bamboo replenishes itself very quickly. And a peer wondered about water usage. Why can’t rainwater be used in the house? With water conservation a critical issue, shouldn’t policy makers in Illinois be rethinking that issue?

One more thing: for those of you who enjoy words, the Smart Home pamphlet features a green glossary. Words to put in the sustainable column: “cradle to cradle” and “real time pricing.” Words to put in the hazardous footprint column: “cradle to grave” and “off gassing.” It’s hard to infer the meaning of each term so visit! The exhibit closes on January 6th. Plenty of time to enjoy it over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

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