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Solar Structures

Try Engineering, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

This activity explores solar energy and the difference between passive and active solar design. Students will design and build a solar structure in order to test how radiation and conduction distribute heat.

This learning activity takes two to three 45min class periods

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

  • The resource can be used at an upper elementary level but the reading level may be high for some students. Teachers may want to scaffold the background reading for lower level students.
  • The background text with definitions and terms is understandable for upper elementary and above. Additional diagrams to explain the importance of orientation could aid understanding.
  • The science of solar energy and the engineering/design process are well covered for upper elementary/middle school levels.
  • This activity will be challenging but will be rewarding for students. It can be modified to target different age groups.
  • The teacher may need to support students in data collection by creating a data collection table and/or Report/Presentation template.
  • Assigning team jobs could help define appropriate roles for group work.
  • This activity would pair well with a lesson on sustainability, renewable energy, or sustainable architecture.
  • Teachers can adapt this into a presentation, research paper, or portfolio-style report.
  • Can extend this to focus on green careers or have a guest speaker.
  • Handouts for students are provided.

About the Content

  • Students explore solar energy and passive and active solar design.
  • Students will design and build a solar structure, a house, utilizing passive solar design principles, test their design, and present their process and results.
  • Definitions and explanations are provided on solar energy and passive and active solar design.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • The activity teaches students step-by-step how to design the house, and teaches them aspects to consider when designing.
  • This is a hands-on, group project lesson. It could be modified to be an individual activity. Working in groups students could support each other, benefitting diverse learners.
  • An understanding of solar energy and experience using tools such as temperature tape and creating tables or charts for data collection are recommended prerequisites but not required.
  • The activity is generally engaging, but the text about solar energy and solar design could be enhanced with a video or visual support.
  • The teacher's guide is detailed and helps guide the teacher on how to teach this project. Standards are provided.
  • This project will be great for diverse learners, because it takes place over multiple class periods, and can appeal to students who don't like lecture-based learning.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Materials to build solar homes need to be gathered before the activity including: cardboard or cereal boxes, construction paper, plastic cups, sand, stones, water, rulers, tape, plastic wrap, felt, light and dark tempera paint, foliage, compass, thermometer or temperature strips, protractor, scissors, pencils.
  • This activity lists additional websites to help students with design ideas.
  • Necessary prep time to read through the lesson and plan for gathering materials is one hour.
  • Costs will include the cost of materials for building the house.
Entered the Collection: March 2023 Last Reviewed: June 2022

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