Students in Kevin Willis’ brief calculus class are learning more than just numbers this year.

With a short-lived but highly effective study of the Living Lab, a district shared site that tracks real-time data for different STEM projects, Willis said his students have become more engaged.

“It’s pretty motivating, this whole thing just kind of exploded,” he said.

On top of Desert Vista High School’s cafeteria sits two sections of solar panels that the students monitor through the Living Lab program. With the lab, they are able to track power usage and other data to be used for a variety of classroom applications.

“The living labs are really just websites, but it’s connecting to real-life and real-time data,” Willis said.

Part of an initiative in sustainability at Tempe Union High School District, each high school in the district has efficient-energy projects like solar panels, charging stations, fuel cells and a gas heat pump, among others. With the Living Lab, each high school has complete access to the projects’ information.

Willis’ students for one week crunched numbers from the data, found out that the panels in one day can produce an hour of power for 13 classrooms.

“We were just pulling up all types of stuff on what the data could be used with,” said Willis. “It’s fun stuff.”

What was even better for Willis, is that his students took off with the newfound knowledge of calculating out energy data, and did their own research — some measuring the output of kilowatts their home air conditioning unit uses.

“Anything that gets kids more involved is good, we’re in the information age,” he said. “Kids have not changed in the last 100 years, but the way they learn has changed. No longer can we teach the same way we taught 10 years ago.”

While his classroom has mostly moved on to another lesson in class, Willis said he will have the kids work with some more data from the lab at the end of the year, but his real plan is to extend the project to younger grades and for longer amounts of time.

“We really can go a long ways with it,” he said, since students can apply the information to the real world. “It can be done, and it will be done.”

For more information about the Living Lab and the district’s effort in sustainability, visit

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or Follow her on Twitter @dmartinezAFN.

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