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BTU Crew Program Leads to National Win for Beloit Junior High Team

August 03, 2022


For some students, combining Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning with competition can be a game changer, getting them more fully engaged and committed to learning. This hands-on learning approach can set students up for success in the classroom, and in STEM competitions, while fostering their interest in future STEM careers.

That’s what happened to students at Beloit Jr. High School who were recently selected as the “Judges Favorite” from among 53 teams in the National KidWind Challenge competition.

It all started when administrators and teachers at Beloit Junior High School in Beloit, Kansas, decided to incorporate the Trane BTU Crew STEM educational program into their classroom teaching. The program is a value-add benefit for schools working with Trane on infrastructure upgrades or new building projects with Trane. The program includes teacher training and implementation support from a Trane Educator-in-Residence, in this case, Dan Whisler, a former science teacher.

As the students progressed through the BTU Crew program, they were especially intrigued by the lesson on renewable energy. Ultimately, they so enjoyed the BTU Crew renewable lesson that a group of them wanted to add the KidWind Challenge competition to their classroom activities. Teachers Christie Fouts and Dan Whisler helped the students undertake successful competitions at the regional and state levels that qualified them to compete at the national level.

For the national KidWind competition, students designed and tested both land-based and floating small-scale wind turbines, with the floating models being tested in a combination wind tunnel/wave tank to simulate offshore wind development. The competition featured a variety of tests including a high-speed wind tunnel test for turbines that was dubbed “The Destroyer” for its ability to destroy wind turbines. 

The students also competed in a solar energy challenge, built a hydro-powered turbine, completed an interview with judges, and a team quiz on energy. Additionally, they had the opportunity to team up with a local collegiate wind team for one of their competitions. 

Fouts is pleased to see how these learning experiences have helped students better envision their future careers.  “These programs definitely impacted students’ ability to imagine themselves in STEM careers.” 

“Having coached student teams competing in this STEM competition for 10+ years now, I’ve seen over and over with my own students and schools I now work with how engaging this hands-on experience is for students,” Whisler shared. “Combined with the lessons and activities in the BTU Crew, students are guided through the full spectrum of the energy industry from electrical generation to the use of data analytics to optimize energy efficiency in buildings.” 

Congratulations to the Beloit Junior High School KidWind Team!

Learn more about how the BTU Crew STEM education program can benefit your school!

Kasey Boxleitner

About the author
Dan Whisler, Educator in Residence

Dan Whisler is the Educator in Residence for Trane, working with school districts across the country to lead the BTU Crew™, a Project Based Learning Energy Education program. Prior to this position, he taught Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy & Physiology and Environmental Science at Sterling (KS) High School for 33 years. In his first year as Educator in Residence, Dan helped guide one of the school districts piloting the BTU Crew program to a National Rookie of the Year Award in The NEED Project’s Youth Awards Program. This honor represents the top award in the nation for a school new to competing in this national energy education program.

Dan’s accomplishments are impressive and lengthy in both academics and athletics. His resume includes presenting at state, regional and national events such as the Kansas Wind and Renewable Energy Conference, the Kansas Energy Expo, the National Science Teachers Association Regional Conference in Kansas City, the NSTA National STEM Conference in New Orleans, and the NSTA National Conference in Chicago. Dan received the 2011 Outstanding Secondary Science Teacher Award presented by the Kansas State University Chapter of Sigma Xi and has been featured in GM’s “New Roads” magazine for his students’ work with the SHS Chevy Volt Project. Sterling’s “SHS Chevy Volt Project” was selected for the 2015 National Outstanding Energy Engineering & Design Project by The National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project in Washington D.C. Dan is a member of the Kansas Governor’s Council on Education, serving as a co-chair on the Future Ready committee and working to bring students more opportunities for career exploration and training.