Monday, 11 December 2017

Lesson 10: Take 3: Standards

It's a challenge making building standards interesting. The topic seems as dry as a highly insulated house in the middle of winter with heat recovery ventilation and no humidification. As I started brushing the cobwebs off last year's presentation, my first thought was that I should teach this lesson later, and tackle the altogether more exciting topic of energy generation first. I stopped myself, thinking that I was just trying to put it off, and I've just noticed now that I'd moved it two weeks later last year. A lesson on comfort had been added to the original plan, and Windows 2.0 came after the lesson on standards the first time.

This lesson should really work as a revision of what I've been telling them about low energy building, since standards ideally reflect the essence of low energy building, and promote improvement.

I followed the plan at the beginning, giving them several reasons for low energy building. An obvious reason is to reduce environmental impact, although unfortunately this is a relatively low priority for a lot of people. Money is often a higher priority, and the fact that low energy buildings are cheaper to run, long term, is perhaps a more powerful incentive. Even then, a lot of people are concerned with the immediate costs, and less worried about possible future savings. Grants or tax breaks are another reason people may build low energy, but the most powerful reason is probably where there are laws that oblige people to build low energy.

Then I tried to introduce the idea of standards, with a few examples and their logos, including the JIS (Japan Industrial Standards) logo, which they all knew, and the logos for European Standards, British Standards, and Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), which they did not.

In order to breathe some air into the topic, I put them into groups and had them imagine they were government committees who had to come up with their own standards to ensure low energy buildings.

First they had to brainstorm for things they could look at. I had to steer them away from things like giving grants, which is a good idea but not actually a standard.

Their ideas mentioned insulation materials, windows, form factor and solar power.

After some brainstorming, I got each group to choose two or three ideas, and come up with some details of what exactly they would stipulate.

They came up with a few concrete suggestions, such as using wood rather than aluminium for window frames, and a minimum percentage of glazing to frame. Other ideas were a bit vaguer, like making the air gap thicker, and having "really thick" walls. There were very few actual numbers, and nobody mentioned U-values, which makes me think I haven't talked about that enough times.​ Also nobody mentioned ventilation.​ One group came up with the two ideas of adding solar panels, and adding a battery to store the power. These are both interesting ideas but have absolutely nothing to do with what we've been talking about for the previous nine weeks. That did make me think I should have done the lesson on generation first.

The lack of detail also made me wonder whether I should have given them that task later in the lesson, after I had given some examples of actual building standards. As often happens in teaching, there is a difficult balance to reach between giving students information and getting them to come up with their own ideas. Perhaps I should start off by introducing some of the early low-energy building standards and then get them to think about what is missing, how they could be improved, and what they would do now.

This may have been a good lesson to produce a multi-dimensional gap fill, or jigsaw activity for. There is a smartphone app called Quizlet Live that lets you add several questions and their answers, which are then scrambled for students to match. The teacher gives students an access code, then the app puts students into groups of three or four, so they have to go and find their partners. Then each student gets around four answers on their screen, and the questions come up in turn. The student with the correct answer must select that, then they will all get the next question. If someone gives the wrong answer, it goes back to the beginning again, shuffling the answers. This may not make the content any less dry, but it could socialise its delivery.

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