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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Out of This World Art

Air Date: Week of

Sharon Campbellā€™s husband built a stationary bike that harnesses the energy of middle schoolers to power her classroom. (Photo: Oliver Laude)

In one Napa, California classroom, art means giving away energy-efficient light bulbs, videotaping green public service announcements, and powering up courtesy of student bicyclists. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with art teacher-extraordinaire, Sharon Campbell.


GELLERMAN: Sharon Campbell is no ordinary art teacher, and where she teaches is no ordinary classroom. It’s a spaceship headed for Mars. She calls it the RMS Energy Star. RMS stands for the Redwood Middle School. It’s in Napa, California, and it’s where Sharon Campbell’s mission to explore science, art, and conservation takes off daily.

Hi Sharon.

CAMPBELL: Hello Bruce.

GELLERMAN: So why have you converted your classroom into a spaceship?

CAMPBELL: Well, our classroom is our very largest tool for teaching, and my students don't like living in a beige classroom any more than an office-worker likes working in a beige office. Our colors are baby blue, hot pink, hot purple, silvers, golds. You can look out through the portholes, you can see Mars and you can see Saturn.

GELLERMAN: You're doing more than just teaching art.

CAMPBELL: Well about four years ago, something really exciting happened to me. I found something at a conference, it was called a Promethean board, and active board, and what it did was it allows me to teach to my students through sound, through sight. But our school district doesn't have any money, and yet I knew that it was exactly what I needed to meet the needs of every student in my class. So, I wrote a grant with the British Petroleum company—who gives money to individual teachers for innovative programs. And what I did was I looked at my husband and I said, 'Can you create a bicycle that will make electricity so I can run my classroom?' and my husband said, 'uh huh.' And I chose that because a, there's nothing more active than 14 seventh and eighth grade boys in each class. So I figured that they could use their excess energy and create electricity for my classroom, and I would have the money to build the bicycle and buy the Promethean board.

Dreams and hard work are the components of success fuel in Mrs. Campbell’s class. (Photo: Oliver Laude)

GELLERMAN: So your husband built the bicycle that can power the Promethean board?

CAMPBELL: Yes, and our sound system and our projector. The students pedal it for 15 minutes each hour, each period. So I have three students sign up, and they pedal for five minutes a piece, and they can go ahead and continue their projects or watch the lesson plan at the same time.

GELLERMAN: Hmm. Well, let me speak to one of your student generators.


GELLERMAN: So, what's your name?

BRANDON: My name's Brandon Beck. I'm in seventh grade.

GELLERMAN: So Brandon, do you ride the power-generating bike in the classroom?

BRANDON: Yes I do. Everyday, whenever I can.

GELLERMAN: Why don't you hop on the bike, and tell me what it's like to ride the bike. How’s that.


BRANDON: I like riding the bike because ever since I learned about global warming and, like, saving energy, that's been one of my main priorities because I'd like my kids to be able to like see a polar bear or a penguin, and I wouldn't like my house to be under 50 feet of water from all the melting that's happening.

Mrs. Campbell’s art room is painted to look like a spaceship. (Photo: Oliver Laude)

GELLERMAN: Well, Brandon, thank you very much. Let me speak to another student there.

THOMAS: My name's Thomas.

GELLERMAN: Tom, what do you like about this class? Or, what you don't like about this class?

THOMAS: Um, there's not much I don't like about this class. It's a fun class and you're really involved and you get to interact with all the things she has in this class. You get to learn how to edit the films, you get to learn how to conserve energy, you get to use the Promethean board.

GELLERMAN: Well, give me an example how you conserve energy.

THOMAS: One year for the Back to School Night, or the parent's night where the parents came back to class, instead of like giving them like coffee and a cookie or something, she gave every one of the parents a light bulb - an energy conservation light bulb. We also have competitions. Each period gets like, for every energy conservation thing that they did, they get an energy dollar and they get to put it in a jar of like what period they're in, and whatever period has the most dollars at the end of the months get like a prize or something.

Mrs. Sharon Campbell is captain of the energy star at Redwood Middle School in Napa California. (Photo: Oliver Laude)

GELLERMAN: I heard they're called 'eco-bucks.'

THOMAS: Yeah. It's just a way of measuring like of what that period has done to uh conserve energy.

GELLERMAN: So Mrs. Campbell, are all your crew members male?

CAMPBELL: No, (laughing) we have crew members of both genders. And let me go get one of our young ladies.

MEGAN: I'm Megan. I live in Napa, and I'm about, I'm thirteen actually.

GELLERMAN: So tell me about your experience in Mrs. Campbell's class? What have you learned, and uh - ?

MEGAN: I do lots of things here. It's so much fun, I mean there's always something to do. And she does a lot to conserve the energy.

GELLERMAN: Megan, are there any lessons that you've learned in Mrs. Campbell's class that you've taken home with you and that's you've tried to teach to your parents?

Sharon Campbell’s husband built a stationary bike that harnesses the energy of middle schoolers to power her classroom. (Photo: Oliver Laude)

MEGAN: Yes, don't waste anything. Instead of washing like one thing at a time, we tend to like use an entire load of laundry. We shut off lights whenever we leave the room. And they actually put a time limit for how long I can talk on the phone.

GELLERMAN: (laughs) Well, that's gotta be a tough lesson.

MEGAN: Yeah.

GELLERMAN: (laughs) Well, Megan, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

MEGAN: You're welcome.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Campbell, how has this project affected the community outside of your classroom?

CAMPBELL: Well, the students sort of downplayed their role in the community. They are doing energy conservation commercials right now. We have some that are doing global warming, and we have, really one of the nicest is a race between the plastic bag, the reusable bag, and the paper bag.

[From tape: STUDENT 1: Now, would you like paper or plastic? STUDENT 2: Umm, none. I brought my own. STUDENT 1: That's a good idea. Here you go. Bye. That's a good idea, maybe I...]

CAMPBELL: We have some that are doing bright ideas, turn off the light. This fall, the students received a donation of 5000 energy conservation light bulbs from the Sylvania Company, and within two and a half days, they had placed every light bulb in a home in the Napa Valley. And then they took 500 bulbs and they wrapped them for Christmas, put ribbons on them, and we took them to the food bank, and we made sure that they went to the most needy households in the Valley as well. My students are concerned citizens even though they're eleven and twelve years old. In five years they'll be voters. The future's in great hands.

GELLERMAN: Well, Ms. Campbell, thank you very much.

CAMPBELL: Well, thank you for giving my students a voice.


GELLERMAN: Sharon Campbell teaches at the Redwood Middle School in Napa, California. At our website, LOE.org, you’ll find pictures of her spaceship classroom – it’s out of this world.



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