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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»

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.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    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.

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
Entered the Collection: June 2018 Last Reviewed: October 2011

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