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Solar Kit Lessons

How To Create a Solar Kit

Solar Kit Lessons are designed for use with mini-solar electric panels (1 volt, 400 milliamps).

Lessons 3 and 4 also require raw solar cell chips. Each lesson calls for varying materials. Most need one or two mini-solar electric panels with attached alligator clips, though lesson 13 needs 16 of them. You will have to solder on your own alligator clips or other type of connector. The rest of the materials called for in the individual Solar Kit lessons are generally readily available to teachers.

Although NYSERDA does not endorse any particular supplier, if you would like to put together your own kit, you can order parts from the following sources:

  • Raw Solar Cell Chips: Sun Watt Corporation, Jonesport, ME, 207-497-2204.
  • Mini-Solar Electric Panels (1V, 400 mA): Many education supply companies carry the following small photovoltaic panels: Pitsco and Kelvin Electronics.
  • Solar World carries 1 volt, 400mA solar mini-panels, raw solar cell chips, and miniature DC motors.

Solar Kit Lesson #1

1. Solar Cell Inquiry [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After students carry out an open-ended inquiry of how solar panels and a AA battery can be used to power lamps and motors, they are able to infer what forms of energy are being used in each instance and predict the long term ability each power source has to keep a motor or lamp turned on.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students experiment with a selection of solar panels, lamps, motors, and a AA battery to get as many motors or lights to operate as they can in the time period allotted. For each success, they draw a diagram of their setup and label the energy source used and the different forms of energy found throughout the arrangement.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Levels I and II: Physical Setting, intended for grades 3 - 7.

Solar Kit Lesson #2

2. Sunshine Timer [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After collecting data on cloud cover using a simple instrument and displaying data through graphs, tables, and charts, students interpret data for patterns of cloud cover that affect solar-powered energy production and predict energy production under given cloud conditions.

Lesson Overview: Students use a simple and easy-to-understand homemade technological device, the sunshine timer, to monitor cloud cover over an extended study period. They become habituated to observing conditions in the sky such as location of the Sun and types of clouds present. This study provides daily and weekly opportunities for students to collect and display data; use graphs, tables, and charts to interpret data; make predictions; and relate patterns of cloud cover to their effect on solar energy production.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Levels I and II: Physical Setting, intended for grades 3 - 6. Instruction may be adapted for grades 7 and 8.

Solar Kit Lesson #3

3. Parts of a Solar Panel I [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After examining electrical contacts and the use of solar cells and rechargeable batteries to power electric motors, students are able to describe how a solar cell is similar to and different from a rechargeable battery as a way to explain to others how a solar cell works.

Lesson Overview: Students use observation, critical thinking, and deductive and inductive reasoning to compare and contrast the characteristics of a solar cell to a rechargeable battery. By comparing and contrasting a solar cell to the more familiar rechargeable household battery, students discover a simple analogy to help them understand and explain to others how a solar cell works: similar to a rechargeable battery, a solar cell can be energized to provide a circuit with direct current. It is unlike a rechargeable battery in that it is energized by a different form of energy (light as opposed to electricity) and it can be energized instantly but it cannot store energy so it instantly becomes "dead" when that energy source is removed.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Levels I and II: Physical Setting, intended for Physical Science and Technology Education courses, grades 4 - 6.

Solar Kit Lesson #4

4. Parts of a Solar Panel II [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After reverse engineering a mini-solar panel to determine how it was constructed physically and electrically, students are able to describe how fragile solar cells are packaged to form a durable solar panel and how the series and parallel electrical connections that were used relate to the output voltage of the device.

Lesson Overview: Students use observation, critical thinking, and deductive and inductive reasoning to determine how a mini-solar panel is constructed.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Levels I and II: intended for grades 4 - 6.

Solar Kit Lesson #5

5. Build a Simple Ammeter [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After building and working with a simple ammeter, students are able to describe the relationship between the direction of a current and the magnetic field it produces.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students: propose and test theories on why solar cells connected in parallel produce more current than in series; and apply conventional standards of (a) clockwise analog meter movement and (b) electrons flowing from a negative terminal.

Students build a simple ammeter to indicate the presence, direction, and strength of an electric current flowing through a wire. This device may be used later on to help students design and build a solar-powered battery charger in the Solar Kit lesson Solar-Powered Battery Charger.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for Physical Science and Technology Education courses, grades 5 - 9.

Solar Kit Lesson #6

6. Solar-Powered Battery Charger [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: In this lesson students will:

  • Observe the relationship between the direction of electrons flowing through a battery and the chemical changes in a battery.
  • Propose, build, and test designs showing that solar cells must be connected in such a way as to produce an adequate voltage to recharge a battery.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson students will design and test a solar powered battery charger. It is recommended that in doing so, students use the simple ammeter they designed and built in the lesson Build a Simple Ammeter.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for in grades 5 - 9.

Solar Kit Lesson #7

7. Positioning Solar Panels I: Explorations with Tracking [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After using a mini-solar panel, and tracking and recording data on the Sun's position in the sky, students are able to identify relationships between position of the Sun and a solar panel's output power.

Lesson Overview: Through one day of activities, students track and record data on the Sun's position in the sky and on the output of a solar panel tracking the Sun. On a second day, students graph and analyze the data to identify relationships between (1) the time of day, (2) the altitude and azimuth of the Sun, and (3) the positioning of a solar panel set to receive maximum solar energy. From this analysis, they propose how to position a stationary solar panel to receive the most solar energy possible over the course of a day. This is the first of two related Solar Kit lessons. In the second related lesson, Positioning Solar Panels II: Explorations with Stationary Panels, students evaluate their proposals for positioning a stationary solar panel and compare stationary and tracking systems.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for Physical Science and Technology Education courses, grades 6 - 9.

Solar Kit Lesson #8

8. Positioning Solar Panels II: Explorations with Stationary Panels [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After collecting and analyzing data on the amount of sunlight that strikes solar panels in various stationary positions, students are able to identify an optimum mounting position for a given day of the year and explain why engineers typically mount PV modules in New York State facing due south and tilted at about 43 degrees from horizontal.

Lesson Overview: Students use a graphical integration technique to determine the amount of solar energy (W-hr/m2) received by solar panels over a day in different stationary positions. From this data, they deduce which position a panel should be placed in to receive the most solar energy over a day at this time of year. Using what they have learned, they propose reasons why the 2 kW solar panels mounted on the 50 School Power … Naturally schools are positioned as they are. This is the second of two related Solar Kit lessons. In the first lesson, Positioning Solar Panels I: Explorations with Tracking, students propose stationary positions for solar panels to receive the most energy at a given time of year. In this activity they experimentally check the accuracy of their proposals.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Science and Technology Education, intended for grades 6 - 9.

Solar Kit Lesson #9

9. Properties of Solar Radiation: Reflection, Transmission, and Absorption  [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After using a solar panel as a radiation meter to distinguish how well various materials reflect or transmit solar radiation, students are able to predict reflection and transmission properties for various materials, and test their predictions using their sense of touch.

Lesson Overview: Through experimentation, students observe and record levels of solar radiation reflected off and transmitted through various materials. They apply the results to potential consumer choices.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for Home and Careers, Physical Science, and Technology Education courses, grades 6 - 9.

Solar Kit Lesson #10

10. Properties of Solar Radiation: Direct and Diffuse Light [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students become habituated to observing conditions in the sky such as location of the Sun and types of clouds. They come to understand the patterns of cloud cover that affect solar energy production.

Lesson Overview: Students establish a long-term study of direct and diffuse solar radiation. They collect and display data, demonstrate the concept of percentage, interpret data, and make predictions. The data can readily be transferred to computer data-management software such as spreadsheets. In this lesson, students:

  • Use an ammeter to collect data interpret data on direct and diffuse solar radiation
  • Display data in numerical and graphical forms
  • Use a graphical technique to determine and display percentage of direct versus diffuse solar radiation
  • Predict how factors such as differing weather conditions or times of day affect levels of direct and diffuse solar radiation
  • Adjust their predictions after interpreting new knowledge
  • Identify how differing weather conditions or times of day affect levels of direct and diffuse solar radiation

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for Physical Science and Technology Education courses, grades 5 - 8.

Solar Kit Lesson #11

11. Power Maximum: An Electrical Determination [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After standardizing test stations designed to measure a solar panel's maximum power output and working with output data for solar panels, students are able to

  • Identify variables that may affect test results
  • Devise ways to control such variables so that comparable results can be obtained from each station
  • Identify construction considerations that might affect a solar panel's performance

Lesson Overview: Students identify and implement methods to standardize testing stations that measure solar panel output power. After collecting electrical output data from several solar panels, they plot the current-voltage (I-V) and power curves. Working with the variable "amount of light," students identify voltage and current at maximum power output for several solar panels.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, Physical Science and Technology Education courses, intended for grades 6 - 9.

Solar Kit Lesson #12

12. Calibration Curve for a Radiation Meter [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After using measurement, students are able to link the concept of "brightness" to a graphical mathematical representation or, for more advanced students, an algebraic mathematical representation. Students ready for algebra are able to determine the slope-intercept equation for this linear relationship.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson students determine the relationship between the short circuit output current of a solar panel and the level of radiation striking the panel. They also:

  • Measure a solar panel output current as a function of the level of radiation striking the panel
  • Realize that there is a linear relationship present
  • Use a solar panel to process energy and information into a more useful form
  • Plot solar panel output current versus radiation to obtain a calibration curve for their panel
  • May use this curve and the solar panel as a radiation meter in other SPN Solar Kit lessons

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Science and Technology Education courses, intended for grades 7 - 9.  

Solar Kit Lesson #13

13. Solarize a Toy [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After designing and constructing solar-electric power sources for a selection of small electric toys, students are able to determine an electric toy or device's power requirements, design an alternate solar-electric power supply, and appraise the effects of both variable lighting conditions and the size of the solar-electric power supply on the operating performance of their toy or device.

Lesson Overview: Student working in teams

  1. Select a low-power toy, game, or electrical device to "solarize," or convert to solar power,
  2. Determine the operating voltage of their chosen device and design a solar array to provide this level of voltage,;
  3. Determine a series of conditions under which they will test their toy's performance and, if needed, adjust the size of their solar array to provide more current, and
  4. Determine under what operating conditions their device draws the most power and evaluate how important it is to operate the device under these conditions.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Levels II and III: Physical Setting and Technology, intended for Physical Science and Technology Education courses, grades 7 - 10.

Solar Kit Lesson #14

14. Solar Cells as Control Devices [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students complete a design project using a solar cell as a control device or as part of a feedback circuit.

Lesson Overview: Students identify, research, design, construct, test, and evaluate a device whose function is to respond in some way to changes in the intensity or direction of sunlight. This device must demonstrate a design concept that could be used in a real-world, practical application.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Educational Technology, intended for Technology Education courses, grades 11 - 12.

Solar Kit Lesson #15

15. Solar-Powered Electrolysis of Water and the Hydrogen Economy [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After producing hydrogen and oxygen gases through the electrolysis of water and studying the process, students realize that hydrogen can act as an energy carrier and that as an energy carrier it has many properties that are useful to humankind.

Lesson Overview: Students complete a short reading on hydrogen as an energy carrier, and use solar electric panels to produce hydrogen and oxygen gases from the electrolysis of water. They then test for the presence of flammable gases and propose and balance the chemical reaction for the process of the electrolysis of water.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting, intended for Chemistry and Technology Education courses, grades 10 - 12.

Last Updated: 10/08/2014