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Curriculum at Work: "Power and Energy"

Last school year's Unifying Theme — Power and Energy — contains terms used in common statements, such as “I have lots of energy today,” and “What a powerful statement.” If we ask ourselves the Universal Questions,"What is power? What is energy?" though, we arrive at only provisional answers that yield new questions. For example, energy is a quantity that, when transferred from one system to another, can do work; enegy represents the relationship between all things physical and how they interact to cause change Power is capacity for activation and control. Where there’s energy, there’s power.


Asking and responding questions is scalable and has cross-curricular implications. At the time of last school year's midterm and our SGA elections, we asked questions in both our social studies and math courses across grades. To think through their responses, our fourth grade engineering students also  took a neighborhood walk to identify local sources of power and energy, and this informed their design of a multi-use city neighborhood with a transport system that navigated their theoretical citizens through each imagined district. Our sixth grade biology students studied how matter and energy move through an ecosystem by examining the impact of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Our tenth grade physics students learned to translate physical motion into mathematical representations. In ELA, our seniors explored the question "How can we harnes the power of our voices?" by reading the anthology This I Believe as a mentor text for their own writing, considering the impact of voice on craft, authenticity, and access to audience.

The two terms “energy” and “power” are deeply linked. Power is the capacity for something in our social environment and wider society. Like energy, it’s a transferable abstraction. Power is a capacity for activation and control. To live and survive, we must have power over our world. We must have the ability to direct resources to what sustains us. Importantly, being social, to expand our control we must have the capacity to get others to do what they would not otherwise have done.


The ability to get others to act is known as the First Face of Power. Sociologist, psychologists and historians have realised that there is a Second Face of Power that is equally important: the ability to suppress action. If we control the ability to decide — to vote on issues, to divert resources, to decide who gets to express themselves — then we can prevent decisions from being made. We can increase the individual cost action to a point where it’s not worth (even life threatening) to act. The use of this Second Face of Power is not restricted to totalitarian regimes. We can exercise such power in our local and relatively peaceful communities with republican and democratic systems of governance.


These concepts and questions can be explored at many levels. Throughout the year, all our students will explore energy and the use of power in developmentally appropriate ways. From how we act and react in the playground, to the importance of controlling procedures and decision processes within our governing public institutions. From how plants transfer the energy of sunlight into the chemical bonds that hold sugars together, to the black body radiation of the tiniest things.

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