By Morgan Owen
Jonathan Weisbart believes in hands-on learning. That is why he makes an effort to plan at least one project each year for his fifth-grade students at Playa Vista Elementary that fosters creativity and innovation while following state teaching standards. This year, Weisbart decided his students would build a water battery to store solar energy.
Weisbart says he got the idea for the project from an NPR article on the San Diego County Water Authority’s plan to turn the San Vicente Reservoir into a water battery. The water battery will work by pumping water from the reservoir to a smaller facility at a higher elevation using a solar pump during the day. At night, when solar power can’t be produced, the water will descend through pipes back to the reservoir, running turbines and creating hydroelectricity.
Weisbart says his students will create a water battery on a much smaller scale by pumping water into barrels on the roof of a school building, potentially installing it temporarily at the school to power fluorescent lights. He wants to teach his students that they “shouldn’t be daunted by something that looks difficult or doing something that adults are engineering now. You can do something on a smaller scale with the same principles.”
As an educator, Weisbart says he does his best to impart to his students that failure is only the first step in creation. The students, he explains, are currently working on engineering the turbines for the battery. Soon, he will have the students test their designs, evaluate their efficacy, and choose the most efficient to install permanently in the battery.
The purpose of the project is to teach the students about renewable energy and engineering, both learning targets set for the fifth grade. But Weisbart also wants his students to create memorable experiences and have fun learning. Weisbart says that in years past, parents have reported that his students have continued their hands-on learning at home, continuing to create and innovate in their free time.
To fund the project, Weisbart applied for two grants, one from the LAX Coastal Commission and a second from LAUSD to purchase supplies and solar panels to power the battery. His funding totaled $1,200.
Weisbart says he hasn’t come up with next year’s project yet, but the possibilities are endless. In the past, his students have built a chicken coop, designed space colonies, and built buddy benches. The sky is the limit for Weisbart’s fifth-grade students.