Earth Notes: Schools, Science Week, and Solar Power

Updated 2019-04-23 16:00 GMT
It's fun talking about energy and climate change with Eco Warriors and Year 4.
solar PV on school
A group of parents working in energy efficiency and renewables visits our local primary school each year to tell Y4 about solar power and climate change. This year (a few days ago) we were able to speak to Eco Warriors from across the school too!

Eco Warriors

This year, just after lunch, and before working with both Y4 classes, we spoke to the Eco Warriors, who are tasked with helping the school save energy and help the environment.

two different solar panel types on the roof, amporphous and crystalline

Eco Warriors come from across the school, so a range of ages.

We talked about the solar panels on the school's roof, and how they save the school money on its electricity bills. We also talked about how using solar power helps reduce climate change.

Sandra showed the children some solar cells that she made at work years ago, and we explained briefly how they can be put together to make solar panels.

Did you know that solar cells are basically made from sand?

Radbot, saving heating energyEdward Davey Energy and Climate Change Secretary DECC declaring open new solar PV grid tie roof mounted power system on school roof 20120518 64 DHD

The children knew about climate change and that it was probably a bad thing!

We talked about things they do or could do, at home and at school, such as turning off lights when no one is in the room.

I asked them if they realised that heating is a form of energy use, like lighting. In common with many adults, they hadn't!

I told them what I've been I've been working on for about six years (Radbot) to help reduce the amount of heating people need to use at home to stay warm and comfortable.

Like turning lights off when they aren't needed, avoiding wasting energy on heating is good for the same reasons. Cutting waste saves money and means that less climate-changing CO2 goes into the atmosphere.

Year 4

20190315 Y4 turbine drawingsimple panel/LED/meter interactive exhibitsimple panel/LED/meter interactive exhibit

After the Eco Warriors we then moved to one of the Year 4 classrooms for the rest of the afternoon. We stayed put and the two classes swapped rooms for us half-way through to save us lugging equipment around. (Thank you!)

DHD with Y4 image co KingAthSchool

For each of the Y4 sessions we go through the slide deck (put together by Alison).

We looked at how solar PV works, and at what times of day and year it works less well. Also some of the places solar power is used, from desktop calculators to the International Space Station (ISS).

We also look at why solar power is a good thing, displacing fossil-fuel electricity generation, and mitigating climate change.

(In the case of the ISS, running an extension cable or getting regular coal deliveries up there would be tricky, so solar is almost the only game in town.)

Again, most of Y4 had heard of climate change, though not everyone was sure what it was, or whether it was a good or a bad thing!

Y4 had lots of good ideas about things that run on electricity and that solar panels might help power.

After the talk we split each class into three groups, and rotated them through three activities:

In more detail Sandra says that her group was: "working out which way was South based on the direction the solar panels were facing and looking at a map of the world which had different colours to show which parts of the world have greater amount of sunlight (known as irradiance) and are therefore better suited to using solar power than others. We also talked about whether solar panels work better when it's hot and sunny or when it's cold and sunny — which do you think it is? Well it might surprise you to know it's when it's cold and sunny because electronics work better when they're colder."

For the circuits practical session there was a spare solar panel, LED lamp, and music player so that some children could investigate independently.

There was also a small clear plastic box with a small solar panel, meter and LED. Individual children were asked to find places to take the box hat would have the meter go to minimum and to maximum, and that would have the LED light up. (You have to be right next to a window to get the LED to come on!)

Sources/Links

  • 2017/05: Y4 Electricity (including solar) lesson plans c/o Louise Turmer, and with thanks for the embedded materials and the support of Transition Town Kingston and SWLEN. Also a slide deck used in class c/o Alison Hood with the lesson run as follows (based on 50 mins class):
    • 5 mins introduction by teacher
    • 15 mins slide deck presentation
    • class split into groups:
      • 15 min activity 1: solar panels set up on tables beside the window, to see effects of covering them on connected lightbulb/voltmeter
      • 15 mins activity 2: looking at and discussing the two types of solar PV panels on the school roof
  • (With permission) BWEA schools pack [PDF].