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BCOE Grad Andrea Rioux Motivates 8th Grade Students


Move That Bus…with Biodiesel
by Neil McGahee 

What began as an exercise in assistant professor Jo Williamson’s graduate-level instructional technology class became an educational gold mine for Andrea Rioux’s eighth graders. “It was called an engaged learning project,” said Rioux, a master’s student in the Bagwell College of Education and a physical science teacher at River Trail Middle School in Johns Creek, Ga. “We had to write a curriculum unit using research-based strategies to motivate students.”

Rioux designed a technology-supported unit of instruction titled “Move that Bus…with Biodiesel.” The unit called for students to make an alternative biodiesel fuel to power a school bus 15 miles from River Trail’s parking lot to the garage in Alpharetta, Ga. Students would have to use the Internet to research biodiesel, video conferences to communicate with biofuel experts, and write blogs to document their scientific process and conclusions. They decided to use cooking oil — a product found in abundance in the school cafeteria — to make the fuel.

move-that-bus_01.jpg“On April 25, 2011,” the class blog read, “Ms. Rioux assigned us a project that would stretch our brains to the limit. Mr. Ham from the Fulton County School Bus Commission came to us and said, “I am depending on you students to power a bus using biodiesel fuel made by you.” This is going to be a challenging yet awesome project. The catch is our teacher cannot guide us through the experiment! We are going to have to research everything on our own, come up with a way to make biodiesel and make sure it works.”

In another class, Rioux learned that $1,000 research grants were available from the Atlanta Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) to develop future science and technology leaders. Putting aside her doubts, Rioux submitted an application to AFCEA to fund “Move that Bus.” I never thought I would get the grant,” she said. “I justified it by saying even if I don’t get it, I’ll still gain the experience of applying for one.”

Rioux won the grant and after a month of research and lab work, a school bus — its engine fueled with 10 gallons of biodiesel and reeking of stale french fries — roared to life and made the trek to the bus barn. Rioux has no grand plans to become a used cooking oil baron; she defines success in a more personal way. “I hope my students learned how to take a big problem and come up with a solution,” she said. “In the real world you either pass or fail. This is a great way to get that across to kids. I hope to be able to expand this idea so many more kids are able to share the experience.”

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