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Solar Summer Fun

Many of us will be teaching or helping at science and math camps this summer. Most have their curriculum set but in case you need some good ideas or some ideas to test this summer and insert into your curriculum for next year I have a plan and it involves the sun.

Solar energy is a fascinating topic. When I taught elementary classes I had a wonderful south facing wall of windows. I cut out sun faces and had the students place a sun face on the window each hour of the day every Monday. I printed the faces on different colors of paper and on Monday of week two I had the students repeat the sun face activity. At the end of 6 weeks we had a good record of the sun’s apparent movement across the horizon and a pattern of the movement of the sun lower to the horizon. It was important for the kids to control a few variables such as standing in the same location on the classroom floor as they placed the sun faces and making certain they did the placement at the top of each hour. That is the best time to explore and explain the movement of the earth and how we are moving and not the sun.
Solar energy is becoming big business. Ten years ago you could not find a solar energy contractor in the phone book. Now, there are often several listings even in small and medium sized cities. There are roofing tiles and shingles that have imbedded solar energy collectors. How all that works from photo voltaic to solar exchangers is more grades 8 and higher.  Using solar energy and exploring the power is for any grade.
My favorite site for solar summer ideas is from the Lawrence Hall of Science on their “How To Smile” newsletter.
http://www.howtosmile.org/

The site steps you through how to make a solar oven and use it to make solar s’mores. The site also goes into how to collect and store solar energy. For lower grades this is a great construction and learning exploration. For high school you could launch into the thermodynamic properties of water and other materials. What could be better than a day in the sun with some rich science learning?
There are solar energy maps all over the internet. The Department of Energy site is kid friendly and has some with some great background on solar energy:
http://www.eia.gov/KIDS/energy.cfm?page=solar_home-basics

The maps are a good discussion starter. California has the largest solar collector station. The maps clearly show why. Alaska does not look like the solar energy would be highly useable but there are many folks in Alaska who have figured out ways to make solar collectors and get them to help heat water in the summertime and even provide some electricity in remote locations.

In thinking about solar energy I came across an article from Santa Fe New Mexico where folks are going to the local land deed office and registering their solar rights. This would make sure that as long as you own your property no one could interfere with your full access to the sun. This would prevent someone from building a structure that blocks the sun from hitting your property and make certain that you could place solar collectors and use your piece of the sunlight.
So whether you are looking for good ideas for next year or working, as many teacher do, through the summer engaging students in powerful science learning opportunities, the sun may be a teaching partner with a powerful punch.

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