Take Action: Using Solar Power

In Beyond Weather and the Water Cycle, we’re exploring the Essential Principles of Climate Sciences, which summarize the most important principles and concepts of climate science. In addition to the seven essential principles, the document also includes a Guiding Principle for Informed Climate Decisions. It states:

Humans can take actions to reduce climate change and its impacts.

How can elementary teachers incorporate this guiding principle into their classroom? An emerging best practice from climate research is that teachers are better able to avoid overwhelming students, transcend boredom, and engage students by weaving science content with solutions. In this column, we help you and your students make the connection between knowledge and action.

In this issue, we focus on Essential Principle 1: The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system. This is a great time to focus on how we can harness the Sun’s energy for use in our daily lives. The lessons highlighted below provide a good overview of how we can use the Sun’s energy in various ways.

Solar Cooker. Photo courtesy of Earthworm, Flickr.

Energy From the Sun Teacher and Student Guides (Grades K-4)
These hands-on explorations introduce the scientific concepts of solar energy to elementary students, including an introduction to solar energy, how solar energy can produce heat and motion or cause chemical reactions, and how we can cook with solar energy or turn it into electricity. The teacher and student guides are produced by the NEED Project.

Let the Sun Shine! (Grades 3-5)
Students learn how the sun can be used for energy. They learn about passive solar heating, lighting and cooking, and active solar engineering technologies (such as photovoltaic arrays and concentrating mirrors) that generate electricity. Students investigate the thermal energy storage capacities of test materials. They learn about radiation and convection as they build a model solar water heater and determine how much it can heat water in a given amount of time. In another activity, students build and compare the performance of four solar cooker designs. In an associated literacy activity, students investigate how people live “off the grid” using solar power.

These lesson, as well as others found online, involve building and testing solar cookers. Instead of having students build solar cookers and then throw them away at the end of the lesson, consider building a more sturdy cooker than can be reused over many years. Find a wide variety of plans online at Build a Solar Cooker, including some built by elementary students. Most of these plans use inexpensive and/or recycled materials to build the solar ovens. Here is a link to a YouTube video on how to make a solar cooker from a pizza box.

You may wish to discuss ways other than solar cookers to harness the Sun’s energy. Using a clothesline to dry laundry instead of an electric dryer is one simple action. Project Laundry List provides resources, including a brief history of laundry and games for young children. You might also discuss the impact of windows on home heating bills and how curtains can be used to keep a house cool on sunny days. Finally, the article Taking Action: Energy Efficiency at Home and at School describes ways to involve students in general energy efficiency activities.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. Jessica is an education resource specialist at The Ohio State University and project director of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. She has taught in elementary and middle school settings. Email Jessica at beyondweather@msteacher.org.

Copyright February 2011 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National  Science Foundation under Grant No. 1034922. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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