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Level III Lessons

The Physical Setting

Light Energy

23. Photocells I: The Photoelectric Effect [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After engaging in background reading on electromagnetic energy and exploring the frequencies of various colors of light, students realize that it is useful to think of light waves as streams of particles called quanta , and understand that the energy of each quantum depends on its frequency.

Lesson Overview: This lesson introduces students to the photoelectric effect (the basic physical phenomenon underlying the operation of photovoltaic cells) and the role of quanta of various frequencies of electromagnetic energy in producing it. The inadequacy of the wave theory of light in explaining photovoltaic effects is explored, as are the ionization energies for elements in the third row of the periodic table.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for students in High School Physics or Chemistry courses.

24. Efficiency of Energy Conversion [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After students become familiar with the first and second laws of thermodynamics and gain experience in reconverting electrical energy and determining efficiencies, they are able to describe conversion efficiencies and factors affecting those efficiencies and relate this to the school's PV system.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is for students to experience the efficiency of energy conversion as a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics. They measure the power radiated by a light bulb. By comparing it with the electric power input to the light bulb, they calculate the efficiency with which the bulb converts electric energy into light. They then relate this to the efficiency with which the school's PV system converts light to electric energy. Data gathered in this lesson can be used in SPN lesson #25, Dependence of Light Intensity on Distance or vice versa. There are three alternatives offered within the student section of this lesson (the one you choose depends on the equipment present in your school):

  • Alternative 1: A light bulb and a photovoltaic cell
  • Alternative 2: A light bulb and a TI-83+/LabPro
  • Alternative 3: A light bulb and a TI-83/CBL

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Physics or Physical Science courses.

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25. Dependence of Light Intensity on Distance [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After determining through measurement the relationship between the intensity of a point light source and the distance from the light source, students are able to make predictions on the basis of the inverse square law and relate that law to other phenomena such as gravitational and electrical forces.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is for students to determine the relationship between the intensity of a point light source and the distance from the light source. Measuring this relationship gives students experience with the "inverse square" relationship that also characterizes the gravitational force between two point masses and the electric force between two point charges. Data from SPN lesson #24, Efficiency of Energy Conversion can be used in this lesson or vice versa. Two versions of this lesson are provided in the student section; which one you use depends on the equipment you have available. Version One uses TI-83+/LabPro and Version Two uses TI-83/CBL.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Physics or Physical Science courses.

26. Orienting a Photovoltaic Cell [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After investigating the relationship between incident rays and collecting surface, students are able to state that as the angle between the two increases, the output power increases.

Lesson Overview:The purpose of this lesson is for students to learn the optimum angle for orienting a solar collector relative to the rays of incoming sunlight. Equinoxes, solstices, and various locational ideas might need to be reviewed before students undertake their investigations using meters, light sources, and photovoltaic cells.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Physics or Physical Science courses.

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Electric Energy

27. Allocating Energy from a Photovoltaic System [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students look up and analyze power ratings for the appliances they use, and make decisions on allocation of the photovoltaic electric energy, as it is generated, to appliance use on an hourly basis. Students then are able to cite examples of compromises that could be made to conserve energy while experiencing minimum effects on lifestyle.

Lesson Overview: This lesson helps students distinguish between power and the amounts of electric energy generated or used. The purpose of the lesson is twofold: Students are to inventory their use of electric energy for home appliances and compare this with the typical total of 6.5 kWh produced in New York State by a 2 kW photovoltaic system. Then students are to allocate the photovoltaic electric energy, as it is generated, to appliance use on an hourly basis.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Physical Science or Physics courses.

28. Series or Parallel [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After investigating circuits, students are able to describe how photovoltaic cells are optimally connected in arrays.

Lesson Overview: This lesson extends student mental models having to do with connecting light bulbs or resistors in series and/or in parallel in simple electric circuits to include the way photovoltaic cells are optimally connected in arrays. Students investigate open circuits, using a DC voltmeter, a light source, and photovoltaic cells. Comparisons are made to the 2 kW arrays used by School Power Naturally participants.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Physics, Physical Science, or Technology Education courses.

Chemistry

29. Photocells II: The Photoelectric Effect in Photocells [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After simulating the operation of a photovoltaic cell, students are able to describe the components of the cell and explain how they interact to produce their desired output.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to present the principles of atomic structure that underlie the operation of a photovoltaic cell and explain how they apply to a photovoltaic cell's operation. First, an area of the classroom is staked off to represent a photovoltaic cell, and the students form two groups. One group of students represents electrons lined up on the p -side of the p-n junction, waiting to receive energy from a photon to cross into the n -side and then proceed through the circuit. The remaining group, representing photons, provides energy to the electrons that enables them to proceed through the circuit.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Chemistry courses.

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30. Chemical Consequences of Burning Fossil Fuels [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After completing chemical reactions such as adding oxides of nonmetals to water to form acids, the students are able to understand that fossil fuel combustion produces acid-forming oxides and to provide examples of the effects of acids on metals and carbonate-containing substances.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the chemical consequences of burning fossil fuels. The underlying theme is that fossil fuel combustion leads to the formation of oxides of three nonmetals: carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. When each of these oxides is added to water, an acid forms. In addition to threatening wildlife in our streams, lakes, and rivers, acids are shown in this lesson to react with such building materials as carbonate-containing rocks and some metals. An extension for Advanced Placement chemistry students investigates the equilibria of such weak acids as carbonic and sulfurous. The chemical consequences of burning fossil fuels provide another reason to shift from relying on fossil fuels to using alternative sources of energy such as photovoltaic electricity.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Chemistry or Advanced Placement Chemistry courses.

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31. Avoiding Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Burning Fossil Fuels [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After performing stoichiometric calculations for various alkanes that comprise fossil fuel and working with the emissions avoidance component of the school's DAS system, students are able to cite quantitative evidence showing how non-fossil fuel sources help to reduce air pollution by carbon dioxide.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is for students to calculate stoichiometrically the amount of carbon dioxide that would be emitted from burning a mole of various alkanes that comprise fossil fuels. If the energy released from burning a mole of these alkanes is known, then the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of energy produced can be determined. Converting this energy to kilowatt hours allows calculation of the carbon dioxide emissions that would be avoided by generating electricity with photovoltaic cells or other non-fossil fuel sources instead of burning fossil fuels.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Physical Setting - intended for High School Chemistry courses.

Astronomy

32. The Sun, Earth's External Heat Engine: Astronomy Model (Part 1) [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After completing modeling activities, students are able to describe the structure of the Sun and cite variables that control Earth's solar energy supply.

Lesson Overview: Students become familiar with the variables that control Earth's solar energy supply. After exploring the source and nature of solar energy, the genesis of radiation, and the structure of the Sun, gas spectra are observed and sample astronomical spectra analyzed. Mathematical models are developed and used to make calculations for the following astronomical variables that control solar energy availability on Earth:

  • yearly variations in Earth-to-Sun distance as the cause of seasons
  • differences in Earth's polar versus equatorial distance to the Sun as the cause of equatorial and polar climates

In Part 2, SPN #33, a scale model of Earth's orbit, is mathematically modeled and evaluated, locations of Earth on that orbit are determined, and a model of Earth is used to study the effect of latitude on the availability of sunlight energy at Earth's surface. Also, models of Earth are used to measure sunlight angles at solar noon and to compare length of daylight for various latitudes at the solstices and equinoxes.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: Physical Setting - intended for Regents Earth Science courses, grades 8 - 12.

33. The Sun, Earth's External Heat Engine: Astronomy Model (Part 2) [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: As a result of constructing and using a model of Earth's orbit, students are able to cite examples of variables that affect energy availability at Earth's surface and explain why such variations take place.

Lesson Overview:In this lesson, students work with the variables that control Earth's solar energy supply.

  • Previously, in Part 1, students developed mathematical models, making calculations having to do with two astronomical variables that help control heat energy on Earth. The importance of these variables in controlling heat gain by Earth is typically overestimated by students.
  • In Part 2, a scale model of Earth's orbit is mathematically modeled and evaluated, locations of Earth on that orbit are determined, and a model of Earth is used to study the effect of latitude on the availability of sunlight energy at Earth's surface. Also, models of Earth are used to measure sunlight angles at solar noon and to compare length of daylight for various latitudes at the solstices and equinoxes.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: Physical Setting - intended for Regents Earth Science courses, grades 8 - 12.

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The Atmosphere

34. Blocking the Sun: Earth's External Heat Engine and the Earth System [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After analyzing graphs, charts, and maps, students describe the types of electromagnetic energy present in sunlight, explain how various wavelengths are affected by the atmosphere, and cite the mechanisms that absorb, scatter, and refract incoming radiation.

Lesson Overview: This lesson is the conclusion of a three-lab sequence that investigates the factors controlling the amount of insulation reaching Earth. Students analyze displays of date and draw conclusions regarding energy from sunlight; determine how wavelengths are affected by the atmosphere; and contemplate t mechanisms at work in the absorbing, scattering, refracting, and reflecting of radiation. In addition, they chart the movement of frontal systems across New York State through the use of Internet sites and the SPN network of solar collector sites.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II and III: Physical Setting - intended for Earth Science courses, grades 8 - 12.

35. Fossil Fuels (Part I), The Geology of Oil [PDF] [DOC]

  • Origins of Petroleum Deposits
  • Deposition of Black Mudstone Sediments
  • Black Mudstones of the Acadian Orogeny

Learning Outcome: After completing these sets of activities, students are able to:

  • identify the components of petroleum
  • cite the factors controlling the accumulation of petroleum deposits
  • describe the close relationship between mudstone sedimentation and petroleum deposits
  • locate the environments of deposition existing in the New York State area during the Acadian Orogeny

Lesson Overview:A combination of pencil-and-paper work, laboratory experimentation, and map reading, this lesson explores the parameters of oil formation.

Students investigate:

  • the size, variety, and habitat of Foraminifera fossils, one of the microscopic organism groups that provide the organic material that becomes oil
  • the processes of transportation and deposition of sediments in a water environment
  • a black shale/oil depositional environment existing in North America (and New York State) during the Acadian Orogeny

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Lesson level II or III: Physical Setting - intended for Regents Earth Science courses, grades 8 - 12.

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36. Fossil Fuels (Part II), The Geology of Oil [PDF][DOC]

  • Topographic Mapping
  • Crustal Deformation
  • Rock Porosity
  • Environmental Pollution

Learning Outcome: After completing topographic maps, analyzing the geologic history of sections of Earth's crust, and finishing laboratory investigations of the factors controlling porosity, students describe how, why, and where petroleum and natural gas deposits accumulate within Earth's crust. Also, students use emissions-avoidance data supplied by the school's DAS system to evaluate the environmental cost of our dependence on petroleum-derived energy.

Lesson Overview:Using cross sections of geologic structures associated with oil deposits, students review an interpretation of geologic history and relate it to the formation of oil deposits. They explore and explain factors controlling the porosity and permeability of sediments and sedimentary rocks. Also, they interpret topographic maps and construct topographic profiles.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: Physical Setting - intended for Regents Earth Science course, grades 8 - 12.

37. Fossil Fuels (Part III), The Geology of Coal [PDF][DOC]

  • Interpreting Geologic History

Learning Outcome: After analyzing cross sections and samples, students draw conclusions regarding the formation of coal. They use emissions-avoidance data from the school's DAS system to calculate the environmental cost of coal energy.

Lesson Overview: Analysis of coal-bearing rock sequences leads to conclusions concerning the environmental setting in which coal sediments were deposited. Examination of coal samples prompts students to hypothesize about why various samples have different characteristics. Maps and cross sections of portions of Earth's crust lead students to conclusions regarding the various tectonic forces that help to "refine" coal within Earth's crust. Students use information they find during Internet searches to ascertain the validity of their hypotheses and verify the "story" of coal. Finally, the environmental cost of burning the most abundant fuel in the United States is compared to the use of solar power.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: Physical Setting - intended for Regents Earth Science courses, grades 8 -12.

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Living Environment

Plant and Animal Adaptations

38. Temperature and the Tomato [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After learning the genetic and environmental variables that influence plant growth and designing and carrying out an experiment on comparative growth of tomato varieties, students are able to predict whether given sets of conditions are conducive to tomato growth. They also are able to relate energy production in tomato plants to energy production in photovoltaic panels.

Lesson Overview: Students examine several variables that influence plant growth: genetic variation, temperature, and the relative amount of sunlight. It is really the interaction of temperature with genetic variety that governs the results of the experiment student groups design for this lesson.

The early part of the student section introduces students to two different reproductive adaptations exhibited by tomato plants. The two distinctly different strategies permit the plants to both flower and fruit successfully. Students learn that environmental conditions played a role in the development of the two groups (determinate and indeterminate varieties). Growers selected traits that influenced the time it takes the plants to flower and the length of time the plants produce fruit.

The latter part of the student section engages students in the process of experimental design. Here, all variables except the variety of tomato are kept constant. The photovoltaic panel is used as a data source. Students find the average temperature and insulation for a two-week period, and then determine if the temperature is suitable for tomato growth. An analogy is drawn between light energy being converted to electrical energy by the PV panel and into chemical bond energy by the tomato plants.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Living Environment - intended for grades 9 - 10.

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Photosynthesis

39. Where Do Plants Get Their Food? [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After becoming familiar with the historical study of photosynthesis and replicating van Helmont's classic experiment, students are able to describe the role of light in plant growth.

Lesson Overview: This lesson engages students in thinking about the historical development of the scientific method. A changing understanding of plant nutrition (photosynthesis) is the focus. Observational science, as practiced by Aristotle, is compared to experimental science, as practiced by van Helmont.

Students design an experiment that replicates van Helmont's, using only specified materials. Students are then asked to improve upon van Helmont's procedure and also to consider the importance of a factor neglected by both van Helmont and Aristotle-light. This lesson leads into the SPN lesson #40, A Photosynthesis Timeline .

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Lesson level III: Living Environment, Interdisciplinary - intended for students, grades 9 - 10.

40. A Photosynthesis Timeline [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After studying the work of scientists that show science as a social enterprise, students realize that the values of the scientist's society influence the research of that scientist.

Lesson Overview: This lesson builds upon the SPN lesson #39, Where Do Plants Get Their Food? Introducing photosynthesis through an historical approach helps students understand how advances in science are typically incremental. Students perceive that ideas develop and change, and are influenced by available resources and current societal values.

Students examine the conclusions drawn by van Helmont at the completion of his willow tree experiment. A teacher-directed class discussion leads students to understand that van Helmont's work was limited by the thinking of society at the time and the equipment available to him. They see that even though his conclusion was incorrect, his approach to science and his experiment showing that plants do not obtain food from the soil were significant contributions to our understanding of photosynthesis. A brief description of Antoine Lavoisier's work further illustrates the significance of societal influence and of incremental change in science.

Students are next asked to construct a timeline that:

  • indicates the general time period during which each of the scientists listed did their work
  • denotes each scientist's important contribution(s) to the understanding of photosynthesis
  • proportionally represents the time elapsed between the work of one scientist and the next

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Living Environment, Interdisciplinary - intended for grades 9 - 10.

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41. Biomass Energy [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After a biomass demonstration, students are able to relate how food chains and food webs route matter and energy through an ecosystem and represent the feeding levels of a food chain or food web through a pyramid of energy. The concept that energy cannot be recycled but that some is lost to the biological community at each feeding level is developed.

Lesson Overview: This lesson provides students with an overview of how energy and matter move through an ecosystem. The primary focus is on the loss of energy at each feeding level in a food chain and the significance of this loss. Students construct three energy pyramids. One is generic and is used to emphasize that only 10% of the energy captured by autotrophs is transferred in a usable form to primary consumers. The continued loss of energy is illustrated up through the tertiary consumer level. In order to relate this concept to energy used in home heating and cooking, energy pyramids for a coniferous forest and a temperate deciduous forest are also constructed. Students must employ some of their mathematical skills to successfully construct the pyramids.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Living Environment - intended for grades 9 - 10.

Environmental Considerations

42. Permit Trading [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students participate in a simulation that involves infusing renewable energy resources into the "mix" for electricity generation by employing a "renewable portfolio standard." As a result, students are able to explain market-oriented regulation and its impact on the transition to alternative energy sources.

Lesson Overview: One way to achieve a goal related to energy and the environment is market-oriented regulation, which has already succeeded in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants and carbon monoxide emissions from automobiles at less than anticipated cost. It works this way: After a goal is set, let's say, for sulfur dioxide emissions by power plants or carbon monoxide emissions by vehicles, permits are apportioned equitably among electricity generators or auto manufacturers to "allow" emissions within the overall goal. Producers who reduce their emissions below the level allowed by their permits may sell their permits to other producers, thus entitling the other producers to emit more carbon monoxide or sulfur dioxide.

This activity employs the same approach to infuse renewable energy resources into the "mix" for electricity generation: it employs a "renewable portfolio standard (RPS)."

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Interdisciplinary Environmental or Social Science courses, High School level.

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43. Considerations in Heating a House [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After being presented with information on heat energy requirements for a typical house and methods of preventing heat loss by conduction, convection, and radiation, students are able to explain the relative effectiveness of various energy conservation actions.

Lesson Overview: This lesson uses the topic of heating a home to show students that in an era when fossil fuel supplies are dwindling and alternative sources of energy are needed, it is important to design systems that use no more energy than is absolutely necessary. The task involves reducing the losses of thermal energy from a home-through conduction, convection, and radiation. This approach is known as "conservation," a term not to be confused with the meaning of energy conservation as it is used in the first law of thermodynamics. In addition to conserving energy (i.e., using no more energy than is needed), natural energy from the Sun (known as "passive solar heat") is also found to play an important role.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Environmental Considerations, intended for Physical Science, Physics, or Technology Education courses, High School level.

44. Prospects for a Sustainable Energy Future [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After exposure to the Johansson and Goldemberg definition of the term sustainable, students are able to cite criteria that characterize a sustainable energy system.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the concept of "sustainability," as it was originally considered in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development, and to evaluate the degree of support for sustainability in the recommendations of Thomas B. Johansson and José Goldemberg in Energy for Sustainable Development , prepared for the United Nations Development Programme for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Bali, 27 May - 7 June 2002.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Environmental Considerations, intended for Social Studies course, High School level.

45. Heat Pollution and Communities [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After collecting and comparing data from their school and other schools' DAS systems, students are able to cite differences in waste heat amounts for contrasting environments.

Lesson Overview:In this lesson, students examine an issue, thermal pollution, in the broad context of environmental impact, and distinguish between opinions and claims as opposed to facts and data. A short reading provides students with an overview of the issue. The reading explains that whenever energy is transformed, heat is produced. This heat, known as waste heat, is seldom desirable. Many different strategies are used to dissipate waste heat, but few are environmentally neutral and many have some negative impact. Students come to realize that what seems like an environmentally sound solution may have negative repercussions; all technological changes result in both benefits and burdens.

Students are made aware of the thermal pollution issue on both personal and global levels. They are provided with the opportunity to collect data. Then, through analysis of this data, they find evidence to support the claim that thermal pollution is more of a problem in some locations than in others. Students learn why this is so and also develop understanding of the environmental ramifications of thermal pollution.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level III: Environmental Considerations, intended for Living Environment courses, grades 9 - 10.

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Last Updated: 09/24/2014