Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Learning and Fun with Solar Powered Cars!

What they say is very true – teachers can really learn a lot from the students they are teaching!

Recently, Plano Solar Advocates volunteers had the wonderful experience of engaging in lessons, discussions, and Q&A with elementary students in 14 different class sessions (a total of 215 students) while helping them assemble demonstration solar powered cars.  And when the sun was shining, those cars went really fast!

In collaboration with the Texas Solar Energy Society, the North Texas Renewable Energy Group local chapter, and the Live Green in Plano volunteer program, Plano Solar Advocates volunteers went on a mission the last 5 weeks of the school year to share information about solar energy with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at area elementary schools.

The Solar Car Class

We started each class by talking about the huge amount of energy that reaches the earth from the sun. We described the four types of solar energy we can use – passive, thermal, concentrating, and photovoltaic (PV). We showed photos of PV installations around the area, and showed photos and websites about experimental solar airplanes, boats, and cars.

We then discussed the difference between non-renewable and renewable sources of energy. We discussed how conventional cars are powered by burning gasoline, and we described how an electric car powered by solar panels would work.

The students then worked together in small teams to assemble the solar car kits.  Outside, they then put the cars through their paces and even had a few races. The students made observations and conclusions about sun and shade and how switching the electrical connections changed the direction of the car.

Once we were back in the classroom, the students practiced one of the three “R’s” of sustainability (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) by disassembling the cars so that they could be “reused” at the next solar car class session.  We had a little more time for Q&A, and then encouraged the students to continue to learn and strengthen their knowledge in math and science so that they could become future scientists, researchers, engineers, and business people to capitalize on the untapped natural energy resource of the sun.  We closed the class by having the students watch a short video called – “Solar Energy in Texas – Don’t you wonder?”

Good Timing

Regarding our future migration to more renewable sources of energy and the pioneering spirit and creative thinking we will need to accomplish this, we were very fortunate that the Solar Impulse solar airplane (www.solarimpulse.com) was arriving and staying at the DFW airport during for the latter part of May. Many of the students were able to go see the plane and learn more in person!

The Experience, Next Steps, and More Info

We had a great time speaking and teaching these classes, and we received similar feedback from all the other volunteers who were able to participate. Most importantly, the students were engaged, excited, asked very good questions, and will be the future ambassadors (and consumers) of solar energy.  We received many various thank you letters and even songs composed about solar energy to be sung to current tunes that older folks (like us) might not recognize….

We hope to be able to reach more students next year, so be ready to help answer the call to lead or assist the solar powered car lessons next spring.  It is a great experience to encourage and motivate our next generation to learn about and use renewable energy. It will create fond memories for both you and the students that will be remembered for a long time.

More information about the Texas Solar Energy Society solar car project and its originator can be found by viewing a recent presentation given at the North Texas Renewable Energy group in April of this year.  Check the website (www.ntreg.org) in the download section to find the presentation Solar Cars for All Ages.

Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH & RL)

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