School at Home

Way back a lifetime ago, meaning a few weeks ago, Vermont’s governor gave a Friday press conference saying schools would not be closed. There was not a need right then, but the situation could change and the administration would continue to assess what needed to be done to address the coronavirus’s spread. The following Monday he gave another press conference closing schools until April 6th. A week later, on March 26th, the governor ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

School is not out, mind you. Students and staff are not going to school but they are trying to keep the business of school moving forward. At first the idea was just to “maintain learning,” to make sure students didn’t forget everything by the time school started back up again. Now, however, the idea is to keep teaching, and learning, and generally doing school.

This, of course, has not been a simple task. At my son’s high school every student gets a Chromebook, so they all have a device to connect with others. My son logs in and connects with his advisory at least once per week. They check in, using Google Hangouts, give each other advice and share stories and maybe even get some ideas about how to generally do school. They vent a little and they reassure each other. At other times he gets online for actual “classes.” This does not look like a typical in-person class but might include a lesson or review or help with an assignment that was posted to their online classroom page.

My daughter had been away at school, far from Vermont. She came home early for her March break. Once that break ended she stayed home. Her school is closed as well. They are trying to hold more formal classes online. Sometimes those classes are 90 minutes. That is a long time to focus when meeting on Zoom, especially for challenging high school subjects.

Yesterday my daughter was in her room, online for pre-calculus class. In the middle of it she texted “lots of algebra” and the above photo. Pre-calculus is not an easy class. It requires paying attention and, for most students, asking questions. That is all upside down in this online classroom, especially for a teacher who does not have a lot of experience teaching online and had little time to prepare for that shift. That photo exemplifies the challenge.

Students everywhere are making it work as best they can, but many are just not logging on, and many simply can’t. We are lucky. Our kids are responsible, for the most part, and we have reliable internet access in a safe home. Not only do we have plenty to eat, but I am cooking more than ever now that I am not commuting to and from work. This is a game changer for education on all levels. School will never be the same, and no one knows yet what that means.

My children are not going back to school this year. Will they be in school in the fall? If so, what will that look like? What will this mean for graduation requirements, or for college admissions? Or for the future of higher education? Students ask “When will things get back to normal?” but, sadly for them, they won’t.

We will get through this, of course, and we will all be changed, and good things will come from this very bad time. As the head of my daughter’s school said in an online town meeting, “This stinks.” Unlike the virtual whiteboard in pre-calculus class, everyone with any connection to education understands that.

Final Solar Class

I attended the last of three classes at Champlain Valley Union High School last night for a short course on solar photovoltaic installation.  Overall the whole thing was worthwhile.  I know much more than I did before the class.  I am ready to make it happen.  Oh, but that huge price tag.  Ouch.

Would it pay off?  If you look at just the financial pay back it is hard to judge just how long it would take to break even.  It is easy to do the math with some assumptions.  If you keep the cost of electricity static, it would take maybe 20 years to balance the initial investment with monthly savings.  That is a long time.  If the cost were a little lower, then maybe it would be a no brainer.  But the cake is big.

If we invested in a solar system it might cost as much as $40,000 to install a system that would generate all the power we use now, before any incentives.  A system might cost less, given some other assumptions, and we might invest in a smaller system.  There are lots of variables.  Even a $20,ooo price tag would be huge, however.  If we figure in interest, since we would have to finance a system, the cost grows.  It is the right thing to do, but it is hard to swallow such a huge investment, especially when it means saving maybe 60 bucks a month.

We just started the refinancing process.  We will save more than $60/month  just by getting a lower interest rate on our mortage (4.5%!) but that is a bigger loan.  The scale thing just makes such a big difference.  If incentives were high enough that we could reduce the initial cost and the time to breaking even, I would be ready to make it happen.  We just can’t afford to do it right now.

I will keep my finger on the pulse of what might change with alternative energy (What’s up with “alternative” for wind and solar, anyway?  Shouldn’t coal be considered alternative?).  Until the cost goes down, or we get a big influx of cash, however, it ain’t happenin’.  I could use a little of that stimulus over my way.

Solar Class

I went to part one of a three part evening class tonight, an Access class at Champlain Valley Union High School.  It was presented by Gary Becker of the Solar Bus.  The idea is to get some information about photovoltaics.  Everyone there has some desire to use the sun for electricity generation, including me.  This first class was pretty basic.  We got some general ideas about how things work.  It got me more curious.

Some key points:

Enough sunlight hits the earth every minute to supply all the electricty demand of everyone in the world for a year.

The United States could generate all of its electricity demand from solar power from an area about 45 miles square.

Vermont could generate all of its electricity demand from solar power from an area about 4.2 miles square.

Questions I need answered:

How much electricity would a 1-kilowatt system produce?  What would I need?  And what would it cost?

Those are questions for the next class, when we will get more into the details of how systems work.  We’ll see if I get my 40 bucks worth.