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Solar Energy

Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Working Group, Lehigh University

In this activity, which comes at the beginning of a 40-day sequence of activities in an energy module, students observe the transfer of solar energy to different appliances with a solar cell and investigate the effect of using different solar sources to supply energy to appliances.

Activity takes about one to two 90-minute lab periods, depending on students' familiarity with building circuits.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 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

  • Students should have previous experience wiring circuits and be familiar with the differences between series and parallel circuits before completing this activity.
  • Could be used in technical schools that focus on engineering or could be used informal education.

About the Science

About the Pedagogy

  • Students investigate solar energy with a combination of watching video clips and building their own photovoltaic cell to power several small appliances.
  • Assessment requires a log in, so is protected against students going online to look up answers.
  • Does not offer a lot of inquiry, as it is 'cookbook style.'

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Photovoltaic Cells video clip seemed to end early as if the entire clip wasn't loaded all the way.
  • Pictures of wiring in instructor and student handouts may help students who have not had much experience with creating different types of circuits.
  • Lab kits must be purchased (wires/ photovoltaic cells/ light bulbs/ music box/ fan / etc.), which may be a major limitation for some schools.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Patterns, Cause and effect

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-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-C6.2:Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

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.

Science and Engineering Practices: 8

Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

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-P3.5:Collect data about the performance of a proposed object, tool, process or system under a range of conditions.

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

MS-P6.6:Apply scientific ideas or principles to design, construct, and/or test a design of an object, tool, process or system.

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

MS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.

MS-P1.8:Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

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-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

HS-PS2.B3:Attraction and repulsion between electric charges at the atomic scale explain the structure, properties, and transformations of matter, as well as the contact forces between material objects.

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

HS-PS4.B3:Photoelectric materials emit electrons when they absorb light of a high-enough frequency

HS-ESS3.C2:Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation.

HS-ETS1.B1:When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Patterns, Cause and effect, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function

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

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

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

HS-C6.1:Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem.

Science and Engineering Practices: 8

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, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.8:Define a design problem that involves the development of a process or system with interacting components and criteria and constraints that may include social, technical, and/or environmental considerations. 

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

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-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

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

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.5:Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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