Passive Houses

Environmental Physics Students Visit Fourth Grade

The fourth-grade wing of Increase Miller Elementary had the excitement of a family reunion, the setup of a science fair, and the conversations of a sustainability conference. The space was filled with fourth graders checking out model houses made by John Jay’s Environmental Physics class.

Younger students peered into the windows and lifted the roofs to look inside, as the juniors and seniors pointed out key elements of what made their houses different. They were passive houses—very well insulated buildings that are primarily heated by the sun. The conversations activated a deeper understanding of energy in both age groups.

Deepening Learning by Teaching Others

Green Roofs reduce temperatures of the surrounding air

Building on Energy Basics

“Fourth graders have been learning about energy forms this year, including sustainable vs non sustainable sources,” said Jane Emig, a fourth-grade teacher at Increase Miller. “They were ready for higher level conversations about homes that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Plus, speaking to high school students was very exciting for my students.”

“My students learned how to express complex ideas in ways everyone can understand,” said Jim Panzer, the environmental physics teacher.

Talking about Insulation--in walls and windows

The high school students’ visit began in the classroom. Three teams presented their passive house models to each fourth-grade class, highlighting ways they warmed their house in the winter and cooled it in the summer without using fossil fuels.

“If you touch your home’s windows in the winter, are they cold?” a high school student asked a fourth grader. She nodded. “Ours aren’t. They are five panes thick. In the summer, no heat is transferred into the house. In the winter, no cold gets in.”

Each team used the term R-Value—the number that reflects how well an insulating material works. “Insulation is like a blanket for your house,” said one high school student. Her house used recycled jeans for insulation—a nontoxic, recycled material that is more effective than traditional insulation.

The excitement of mingling age groups

The younger students had plenty of questions

Another high school team highlighted the importance of shade in the summer. “When we put awnings on our south-facing windows, we calculated that the temperature inside of our home went from 108 to 83 degrees.”

The younger students had plenty of questions, including the cost of building passive houses.

“Building this house could cost more than building a traditional one,” said an Environmental Physics student. “But its impact on the earth and on us would be so much less.”