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.

Sunshine, Rainbows and the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Summer brings us many pleasures: a long break from school, vacations, lots of sunshine, and the occasional rainbow, all against a background of electromagnetic radiation! Despite the negative connotation “radiation” sometimes carries, it’s often more useful to us than harmful. Here are a few resources to enlighten you and your students.

Electromagnetic Spectrum
Students will enjoy the colorful illustrations accompanying the text, which vertically follow the spectrum from radio to gamma rays. Teachers will appreciate the link to related lesson plans that will reinforce the learning.

Electromagnetic Spectrum: Waves of Energy
In this lesson, students will (1) understand that the sun energy is transferred to Earth by electromagnetic waves, which are transverse waves, (2) understand that there are eight main types of electromagnetic waves, classified on the electromagnetic spectrum according to their wavelengths, and (3) understand how each of the types of electromagnetic radiation is used or found in our everyday lives. This would be a suitable activity for small groups.

Sources of Radiation
This interactive activity from the NOVA web site explores sources of radiation, both harmful and beneficial, natural and man-made.

Everyday Radiation
This video clip explains natural sources of radiation, including rocks and food.

Special Frisbees Detect Ultraviolet Light
This experiment helps students understand that ultraviolet (UV) radiation is present in natural outdoor light and that the intensity of the light varies with season and time of day. After completing this activity, students will be able to demonstrate that UV radiation can be blocked or filtered by various substances.

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 4/03/2012.