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Solar House
http://www.enviroliteracy.org/article.php/1164.html

Wendy Van Norden, Walter Werner, Environmental Literacy Council

In this activity, students assume the role of a team of architects that has been commissioned to build a solar house containing both active and passive solar components. First, they must design the house and then build a model. The model is tested to determine how well it utilizes solar energy.

Activity can be done in class or outside of class and takes about six to ten 45-min periods. Additional materials required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 9 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 12 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Sunlight warms the planet
About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1a

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
Other materials addressing:
B) Designing investigations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
Other materials addressing:
C) Energy.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:A) Identifying and investigating issues
Other materials addressing:
A) Identifying and investigating issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action
Other materials addressing:
C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action.

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

About the Science

  • Students learn about passive solar technology.
  • Student go through the design process as "solar engineers" into order to design and build a solar house.
  • This activity does not address geographic or climate consideration on passive solar technology, but students can be challenged to consider these factors as well.
  • Other analyses, such as cost/benefit of using passive solar technology on a building (i.e. payback time) can also be added.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Student designers are given a lot of leeway in constructing this model solar house. So, there is room for creativity. Lacking some specifics during construction.

About the Pedagogy

  • Solar House is a very open-ended type of project, but good guidelines and parameters are given to focus students on the task.
  • Competition, in this case who can build the most heat/cooling efficient house, is a strong motivator for students.
  • This activity does not have to be done "in class"; enough instructions/requirements are provided so that it could be done as an "out of school" project and then brought in for analysis/judging.
  • With plenty of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), this activity can be done in many settings.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • There is not specific teachers' guide provided, but clear instructions are provided for all parts of the activity.
  • This is an extensive building project that requires knowledge of scale.
  • While the instructions are easy to follow, the building itself may not be easy for students unfamiliar with this kind of project.
  • A few of the links provided within the activity do not function, but alternative sources of relevant information should be easy to locate.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-ETS1-2: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

MS-ETS1.A1:The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

MS-ETS1.B4:Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C3.3: Proportional relationships (e.g., speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) among different types of quantities provide information about the magnitude of properties and processes.

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-C5.4: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.

Science and Engineering Practices: 9

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-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.

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

MS-P5.5:Use digital tools and/or mathematical concepts and arguments to test and compare proposed solutions to an engineering design problem.

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

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.

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

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: 1

HS-ETS1.B :Developing Possible Solutions

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Structure and Function

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

HS-C3.4:Using the concept of orders of magnitude allows one to understand how a model at one scale relates to a model at another scale.

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-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

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.

HS-C6.2:The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials.

Science and Engineering Practices: 12

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-P1.8: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-P2.1: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-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-P3.1:Plan an investigation or test a design individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence as part of building and revising models, supporting explanations for phenomena, or testing solutions to problems. Consider possible confounding variables or effects and evaluate the investigation’s design to ensure variables are controlled.

HS-P3.6:Manipulate variables and collect data about a complex model of a proposed process or system to identify failure points or improve performance relative to criteria for success or other variables.

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-P5.1:Create and/or revise a computational model or simulation of a phenomenon, designed device, process, or system.

HS-P6.5:Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

HS-P7.1:Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues

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-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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