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Solar Racing

PBS Teachers

In this 'Energy Education for the 21st Century' design challenge, students construct and evaluate a solar-powered model car. Students utilize the design process and undergo review by their peers to select an optimal gear ratio and components for their car. As a culminating activity, students compete in a Solar Sprint race modeled after the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Junior Solar Sprint competition.

Activity takes four to ten 50-minute class periods depending on depth of investigation. Additional materials necessary.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 8 Cross Cutting Concepts, 12 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 6 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 8 Cross Cutting Concepts, 9 Science and Engineering Practices

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • A great project for a science club or group of students on independent study.
  • After the activity is completed, the instructor should have students reflect on how their car design relates to solar energy and spend time considering other uses for solar energy and implications regarding climate.
  • This activity provides another option for energy consumption and independence solutions.

About the Science

  • Students design and build a solar-powered vehicle, utilizing all STEM (Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering) domains.
  • This is a collaborative, creative solar engineering project that requires long-term effort and commitment.
  • This activity does not explicitly teach how a solar cell works but rather investigates factors to optimize the electrical power generated by one.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity is extremely well-thought-out and organized. Students have an opportunity to compete against each other (or even other schools) and test their solar cars.
  • The activity is engaging and integrates STEM disciples to spark students' creativity in designing a solar car.
  • The activity encourages teamwork and builds skills in working as a group to solve a problem.
  • Students will need to know some basic mechanics – acceleration, force, mechanical advantage, etc. – to be successful with this activity.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity requires a solar kit that costs about $32 per group of students, which amounts to spending about $8 to $10 per student.
  • Some students will need careful guidance with materials, especially those who are not used to building.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Introduction to Photovoltaic Systems: http://cleanet.org/resources/41917.html

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1


Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science:

Cross Cutting Concepts: 8

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C4.3:Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

MS-C5.3:Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

MS-C5.4:The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

MS-C7.2: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

MS-C1.3: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C3.4:Scientific relationships can be represented through the use of algebraic expressions and equations.

Science and Engineering Practices: 12

Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P2.2:Develop or modify a model— based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P2.7:Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.

MS-P3.4:Collect data to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions

MS-P4.3: Distinguish between causal and correlational relationships in data.

MS-P4.8:Analyze data to define an optimal operational range for a proposed object, tool, process or system that best meets criteria for success.

MS-P5.4:Apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (e.g., ratio, rate, percent, basic operations, simple algebra) to scientific and engineering questions and problems.

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

MS-P6.7:Undertake a design project, engaging in the design cycle, to construct and/or implement a solution that meets specific design criteria and constraints

MS-P6.8:Optimize performance of a design by prioritizing criteria, making tradeoffs, testing, revising, and re- testing.

MS-P7.5:Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

MS-P1.3:Ask questions to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables and relationships in models.

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-PS3-3: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy

HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 6

HS-PS3.A5:“Electrical energy” may mean energy stored in a battery or energy transmitted by electric currents.

HS-PS3.A1:Energy is a quantitative property of a system that depends on the motion and interactions of matter and radiation within that system. That there is a single quantity called energy is due to the fact that a system’s total energy is conserved, even as, within the system, energy is continually transferred from one object to another and between its various possible forms.

HS-PS3.B2:Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems

HS-PS3.D1:Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

HS-PS3.D3:Solar cells are human-made devices that likewise capture the sun’s energy and produce electrical energy.

Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science:

Cross Cutting Concepts: 8

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C2.3:Systems can be designed to cause a desired effect.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C4.1:Systems can be designed to do specific tasks.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C5.3:Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 9

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence

HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

HS-P2.1:Evaluate merits and limitations of two different models of the same proposed tool, process, mechanism or system in order to select or revise a model that best fits the evidence or design criteria.

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

HS-P3.3:Plan and conduct an investigation or test a design solution in a safe and ethical manner including considerations of environmental, social, and personal impacts.

HS-P4.6: Analyze data to identify design features or characteristics of the components of a proposed process or system to optimize it relative to criteria for success.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P5.3:Apply techniques of algebra and functions to represent and solve scientific and engineering problems.

HS-P6.3:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P7.6:Evaluate competing design solutions to a real-world problem based on scientific ideas and principles, empirical evidence, and/or logical arguments regarding relevant factors (e.g. economic, societal, environmental, ethical considerations).

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