In an increasingly digital world of mobile apps, internet games, and social media, it can be difficult to keep students focused on education—especially when lessons often come in the form of printed textbook pages. But what if we could transform this old-school learning experience into a visually engaging, interactive, and intellectually stimulating activity?

To help address this, the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), along with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) hosted an Energy Education Data Jam last week to advance innovative education tools and applications that improve energy literacy in the United States.

More than 60 participants, including educators from schools and universities throughout the country, data and code gurus, and energy experts from the Energy Department and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), brainstormed and created proofs of concepts related to visualizations, games, and web-based tools using energy education data.

Jason Walsh, director of EERE’s Office of Strategic Programs, kicked off the festivities by explaining the importance of energy literacy for meeting the nation’s clean energy goals. Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer, discussed how data jams can serve as the platform for turning open government datasets into useful apps and tools that benefit society.

Dr. Jan DeWaters of Clarkson University described the current state of energy literacy in America, drawing on her research. Event participants were then introduced to various current datasets and tools, including: 

Common themes and ideas to improve energy literacy emerged from the brainstorming session, including creating games and motivating people to set personal or community energy consumption goals.

For example, one idea involved developing a Guitar Hero-like game to illustrate the impact of using different energy sources on the grid. Another idea was to create a modified version of the popular Candy Crush game to introduce students to renewable energy concepts. Participants also identified ways to provide energy usage data to schools and how to share the energy data from the White House, U.S. Capitol, and other federal government buildings, with the public.

Dr. Ed Dieterle of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation closed out the event by emphasizing the value of changing behavior through innovations in education. Attendees were encouraged to continue developing their concepts and may be invited to a technical showcase later this year.

Check out the 2014 Energy Education Data Jam OpenEI wiki to learn more and find out how you can help create apps and tools that improve energy literacy.