Can You Turn the Broken Solar Lights Back On?

Recently, a reader asked for ideas on teaching about solar-powered lights. She wrote:

I would like to find an activity that utilizes the solar panels from garden solar lights. I know that I could probably find many broken solar lights and was wondering if anyone has any ideas? Electricity and solar panels are not my best areas. Thanks, Denise, 8th-grade science teacher.

Solar power is becoming increasingly popular as more people realize its environmental advantages. It produces no climate-changing gases and it is relatively cheap. A careful look around and you are likely to spot devices running on solar power, such as a highway alert signs or your neighbor’s landscape lights.

A study of solar panels or photovoltaic (PV) cells aligns well with the National Science Education Standards, which indicate middle-level students should acquire abilities of and understanding about scientific inquiry and technological design. The Physical Science standards suggest students gain knowledge of properties and changes in matter and transfer of energy.

The science of PV cells is more abstract than most middle school students are ready for, since it operates on principles of atomic particles’ properties and distribution. But the issue can be explored from the core concept of transfer of energy. That is, solar energy enters the “black box” of the PV cell and is converted into electric energy. Teachers can also set up a variety of circuits and allow students to “discover” which are most effective and hypothesize why. Lessons can be extended to discussions of the feasibility of solar-powered homes and factories and the pros and cons of converting from coal to solar energy. Those discussions would connect to the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives standards.

The following resources will provide teachers with background knowledge regarding PV cells. When teachers feel comfortable with the science, they can consider modifying the last resource, a comprehensive high school lab activity, for middle school use.

But, one more thing, Denise — If you have broken solar garden lights, you will most likely need to order the replacement parts from the manufacturer to get them to operate as needed.

Solar Landscape Lighting

http://www.buzzle.com/articles/solar-

How Do Photovoltaics Work?

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2002/solarcells.htm

Spotlight on Photovoltaic Cells

http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/psu06-e21.sci.photovoltaics/

Investigating Earth Systems – Energy Investigation 6: Solar Energy

http://www.agiweb.org/education/ies/energy/invest6.html

Lesson and Lab Activity with Photovoltaic Cells

http://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/education/modules/documents/PhotovoltaicCells.pdf


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/21/2011.

Writing to Communicate in Science

Communication is a science process skill found within the Science as Inquiry section of the National Science Education Standards. The resources here point to methods and references science teachers can use to assist students in continual honing of this important skill.

Writing with Scientists
In this workshop students will use their own notes and research to write and publish a report online. The workshop will be most helpful if students have completed research on a topic.

14 Writing Strategies
This article from the December 2006 issue of Science Scope enumerates strategies that will encourage critical thinking and provide purposeful writing practice. NSTA members can download the article at no charge; nonmembers must pay $0.99.

Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides
This resource comes from a site intended for college students, Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science Students. However, because it focuses on PowerPoint presentations it is useful to students and teachers at all levels.

How to… Write to Learn Science
This book, available from NSTA, focuses on tapping students’ creativity, allowing them to express science concepts in their own words. Also offered are options for managing writing evaluations and a section on portfolio assessment. (NSTA members receive a reduced price.)


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Creating Inquiry-Oriented Laboratory Exercises

The National Science Teachers Association’s Position Statement on Scientific Inquiry says:

Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences.

To this end, these resources will assist you in either creating inquiry activities from scratch or converting commercially available activities to reflect an inquiry approach.

How to Make Lab Activities More Open Ended
This one-page article provides concrete guidance on how to gradually convert the activities you already use to a more open-ended format, allowing for more student-centered inquiry, .

Rethinking Laboratories
This journal article describes an inquiry analysis tool and adaptation principles to help teachers evaluate and adapt laboratory instructional materials to be more inquiry-oriented. A set of questions can help teachers decide how much the instructional materials reflect an inquiry orientation. The article was originally printed in the September 2003 issue of The Science Teacher. NSTA members have free access; nonmembers are charged 99 cents for access.

Un-cooking the Lab: A Guide to Constructing Inquiry-based Labs in Biology
This four-page article contains sections titled: Features of an Inquiry-based Lab; Examples of Approaches to Labs; Inquiry-based Labs: Constructing a Framework; Inquiry-based Labs: Flow of Activities in the Classroom; Scientific Teaching: and References.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/16/2011.

Designing WebQuests

A well-designed WebQuest allows students to increase their computer technology skills, do research, discover what they didn’t know, and construct new understandings of mathematics and science concepts. WebQuests can be done solo, with a partner, or in small groups. Small groups can jigsaw and gather an even wider breadth and depth of information for teaching and sharing with others. Here are several sites to introduce you to the WebQuest concept and get you started. Adding another teaching strategy to one’s repertoire is a win-win for teachers and learners.

WebQuest.org
This site from San Diego State University claims origination of the technique. The left navigation bar includes links to finding WebQuests and creating WebQuests. The pedagogy in the latter link should not be overlooked.

A WebQuest about WebQuests
This exercise has proven useful for introducing the concept to educators. Working in teams, the participants examine five WebQuests from four different points of view.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators
This page echoes elements from the site above but includes links to tutorials and rubrics for assessing WebQuests.

Dr. Alice Christie’s What Is a WebQuest?
Here one finds detailed pedagogical and technical information on creating and using WebQuests.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Assessment Tools

Here are some great resources to help you add variety to your assessment techniques. Assessment Standard C of the National Science Education Standards implies a need for multiple forms of assessment and recommends the following: (a)The feature that is claimed to be measured is actually measured, (b) Assessment tasks are authentic, (c) An individual student’s performance is similar on two or more tasks that claim to measure the same aspect of student achievement, (d) Students have adequate opportunity to demonstrate their achievements, and (e) Assessment tasks and methods of presenting them provide data that are sufficiently stable to lead to the same decisions if used at different times.

The ABCs of Assessment
This article discusses aligning assessment with instruction. It offers ideas on how to evaluate the effectiveness of any given assessment activity, stressing authentic assessment.

Portfolio Assessment
A portfolio is a collection of student work that exhibits the student’s efforts, progress, and achievements in one or more areas of the curriculum. This resource discusses the characteristics of an effective portfolio, types of portfolios, and the phases of portfolio assessment. It offers guidelines on how to get started using portfolios and how to evaluate them, and provides additional resources on portfolio assessment.

Classroom Assessment Techniques
This is a short, easy-to-read matrix of (a) classroom assessment techniques, (b)outlining descriptions, (c) what to do with the data, and (c) the time required for each type of assessment. The techniques included are the minute paper, chain notes, memory matrix, directed paraphrasing, one-sentence summary, exam evaluations, application cards, and student-generated test questions.

Assessment and Evaluation: Middle Level Science
This reference describes the phases of the evaluation process, assessing student progress, student assessment in science, performance-based evaluation in science, record-keeping, program evaluation, and curriculum evaluation. It contains many how-tos for teachers. The document also has a chart detailing what types of evaluation methods are good for evaluating specific skills.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/10/2011.