How can we bring energy to rural Nicaragua?

I am three weeks into an experiment. It is big. I am not sure how public to be about it. Since it is here, I guess I want it to be public and I want help.

A little background. I have been teaching physics for 15 of my 17 years. I was at first working closely with another physics teacher, who is in most ways my teaching mentor. He left close to the start of a school year two years later and I was called up to the big leagues, all the sections of physics. I love it. I love teaching physics because it is the most like being a camp counselor that you can be and still be teaching an academic subject. There is not one experiment (hardly) that kids cannot do.

I have also been blessed to teach physics in an environment rich in technology. I assigned online individualized homework for the first time in 1999. I have always had a large stock of probes and other data gathering devices. It has been wonderful. I started student blogs in 2005, which I think is before it was cool, although not right on the cutting edge.

Two years ago I got an idea from my mentor to organize my second semester course work around the idea of energy. This was not really anything new. I had always studied heat, electricity, and nuclear during the second semester. These are all energy topics but he thought I could tie them into the bigger energy topics of our day, especially the proposed new coal plant for our town. I took the challenge and added in ties to the bigger picture of energy and a required public presentation on an energy topic.

This summer I took a class in curriculum development. In that class was a teacher from Nicaragua. Her job: find power for rural schools that are off the grid. The professor assigned us to work on a project together and the wheels in my brain started turning. What if my physics course was an learning conversation about how we the physics students in Michigan could learn the physics needed to bring energy to schools that do not have it? She thought it was a great idea. A partnership was formed, I am living the answer to that question every day right now. Keep reading and you can come along for the ride too. Better yet chime in and help us out. We have never done this before. The people there need your help too.

There are a lot of posts about the last three weeks built up inside my head. Hopefully they will start coming out at more regular intervals.