GRAND COULEE - Lake Roosevelt High School science teacher Ralph Rise found a very real-world situation for his class to solve: Find a portable, rechargeable source of electricity for those parts of Africa where it's hard to build an electrical system.
In fact, Rise has found a lot of real-world problems for his science classes, and it recently earned him an award from a consortium of groups interested in science education.
Rise was one of five recipients of the "Science Education Advocate" award for 2013-14, awarded by Washington State Leadership and Assistance for Science Education Reform. He was the only high school teacher who received an award.
"I'm finding it hard to believe that they chose me," Rise said. He said it's a team effort, both with the students and other teachers, especially the instructors in the industrial arts department, automotive teacher Steve Hood and woodshop and applied math teacher Lee Largent. "It's a lot of collaboration with people. It certainly just isn't me," he said.
The electricity for Africa project produced a proposal to use car batteries. It's part of a multi-year grant project, and is continuing with students trying to figure out how to use the setup for water filtration in Central America. "These are real-world problems," Rise said.
The science students are working on two other projects this year, he said - one showing how hydropower and power sales fit into the environment, and the other one detailing the history of food production and preparation among Native American inhabitants of the region.
Rise said the real-world projects really took off in 2009, when a Washington State University graduate student partnered with science classes to look at future energy needs. Since then science students have developed and built a model of a go-cart running on biofuel produced from the waste from local fish farms, among other projects.
"We don't know where these projects are going when they start," Rise said. "We just go down these paths, and have this great story when we're done."
The "food genealogy" project involves the science of hunting, gathering and growing food, and how consumption has changed over time. But it also involved oral history and art, including interviews with Colville Confederated Tribes elders and making a quilt from their stories.
Rise received a $5,000 grant for the science program. Through grants and donations, the school has generated about $24,000 for the project-based science program, he said.