York Catholic School Board remixes Toaster Challenge at energy awareness assembly

Toaster Challenge Recreated

Sitting on the stool on the right side of this photo is an unassuming white form, but push the lever on it and you have a beast of a challenge — match the energy needs of an electric toaster by pedaling your hardest on an efficient bicycle generator. The gentleman on the mic is Ed Veal, known in cycling circles as “Canada’s Fastest Man on a Bike”.  He’s leading an energy awareness assembly at  St. Charles Garnier Catholic Elementary School, in Ontario, Canada, part of the York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB). Over the past few years YCDSB has purchased Generator Pros, the Roll Up, Pedalometer, Pedal Power Utility Box, and a Modified JBL sound system.  This collection of gear can be configured in different ways powering different devices, giving them the flexibility to alter and improve the creative thrust of their school assemblies. To program lead Kent Shadwick, it’s all about better achieve the goal of making energy understandable and real to students. When Kent saw the Toaster Challenge as it was going viral last year (click or scroll down to see the video in-line below), it only took him a few months to recreate it at an assembly with the gear they’d already purchased.

We received this email in early January:

Hi Gents,
Hope everyone is well.
What is the maximum wattage output from our Utility Box via the AC receptacle? 
1000 watts?
I'm trying to simulate the "Toaster Challenge" video you have all seen by now. 
If we plug in a 780 watt toaster and have our two fender blenders pedaling, how 
do you expect the system would perform? I don't want to damage the box or 
blow a fuse.

We quickly replied:

"Output rating is 1000W, Try it!"

Of course, it’s one thing to be able to turn on a device that measures 780 Watts. It’s another thing to keep it on. But that’s the fun part, the part where you realize how much we take energy for granted in our society. So while we offered him some extra tips for how to keep that toaster on, it came down to their leg power and determination — the essence of the Toaster Challenge and its viral success. We were stoked when we received the next message from Kent:

Hi guys,
Success!  Ran the 2 slice toaster with two adult riders for one session and 
three riders for a second session.  Draw was 750+ watts. Just barely toasted 
the bread both times before the utility box powered down.  Best display yet and 
we've had some beauties.
We also ran a new Casio LED projector in eco mode to show the Robert Fostermann 
Toaster Challenge video from pedal power. 75 watt power consumption.  
This projector has built-in data storage which eliminates the need to power a 
laptop or tablet to run the video.
Canadian Olympic Cycling Team member Ed Veal joined us again for another 
inspiring afternoon of pure pedal power.  That's his bike attached to the Rollup.  
Ed knows Robert Foerstemann and is sending him pics.  Robert was touched by our 
use of his video and impressed with our gear.
Some pics for you attached.

And their Tweet, which was then re-tweeted by Foerstemann himself:

After they tried powering the toaster with 2 or 3 strong adults, Kent’s team used the low-draw projector to allow students to power up the original Toaster Challenge video. The act of turning on the projector is another way that the energy awareness assemblies are having an effect. Students are able to see that the toaster is really hard, but the LED projector is doable. They are able to develop an understanding that not all devices are equal in their power consumption. Heavier-draw devices are taking a greater toll on the planet. Are they worth it?

Here is the original Toaster Challenge video for those of you who haven’t seen it:

Kent said that he felt a buzz throughout the assembly and saw students leaning forward, perched on their knees in interest during the peak-exertion challenge. Afterwards there were many requests to eat the toast, then “a grade 8 student finally grabbed it and chowed down on it.”

According to Kent, the key messages of the energy awareness assemblies are:

  • Conserve energy at home and at school. Become an “energy detective”.
  • Ride your bike to school instead of being driven. Practice personal “wellness”. Eat well and stay fit.
  • Become a steward for the environment.
  • Fight Climate Change through personal and family action.

Speaking personally I remember how an assembly at my elementary school in Newton, Mass touched me. I went home and told my mom what I’d learned: dolphins were getting caught and killed in tuna nets. We need to stop buying that kind of tuna and only get the dolphin-safe kind. She did.

That was the 80’s. The biggest environmental problems were smaller in magnitude than what we’re dealing with now. Deforestation, Acid Rain, saving Dolphins and Whales and other endangered species. Imagine the weight that kids feel now, when the problem we’re facing is not specific to one region or species; it’s Global Warming. That’s why it’s so important to deliver the message in a way that students can connect with in a positive way, not a fearful way that shuts them down. That’s why things like “be an energy detective” and Pedal Power are effective in my opinion. They make it fun for kids to reduce their energy consumption and that of their families.

For schools who don’t have a budget for the electrical activities that Rock The Bike produces, we recommend the Fender Blender Universale, our lowest cost Bike Blender. With educational discount (use coupon code “K12Discount” at checkout) this unit starts at only $224. Another low cost approach is to do a beanbag game similar to “Toss Out Fossil Fuels”, part of the Conscious Carnival, a eco-education group based in Oakland:

High Wattage challenges are engaging to people of all ages. Here are a few more examples:

  • Our sLEDgehammer is a peak-power challenge where your power goes into a light display.
  • Operation Freedom Grinder was a successful (and somewhat viral) attempt to liberate a stolen bike using a Pedal Power Utility Box and 2 Roll Ups. The video shows how the ultracapacitor in the Pedal Power Utility Box buffers energy so that the device doesn’t turn off and on annoyingly but is on for a useable amount of time. This feature helped the assembly in Canada as well.Operation Freedom Grinder
  • The Dance With Lance was an attempt to power up a rave with a single cyclist. It took place at the East Bay Bike Party in Berkeley in April 2013.