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»
See 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
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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy |
- 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.
Comments from expert scientist:
Fun, hands-on activity that touches on both mechanical engineering (car design) and solar power at the same time. Simplifies the design and streamlines solar power concepts enough so that the target audience of middle schoolers can understand well enough to develop a working solar car.
I think that there could be a little more background/focus on solar power. Several main parameters for maximizing power output are mentioned, but shading effects, for example, are left out. I think this is really important and should be mentioned because shading can significantly reduce the electricity generated by solar panels.
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.