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Your Name: Ashley Jason

Title of Lesson: What is Solar Energy?
Grade: 4th
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

Make observations to provide evidence that sound, light, heat, and electric currents can
transfer energy from place to place.

This lesson is a hands-on experience for students that will allow them to work with photovoltaic
cells to better understand solar energy. Students will manipulate photovoltaic cells in numerous
ways and record their results. They will apply their findings to create a description of what they
think the ideal solar farm would look like. This activity gives students the opportunity to use
strategic thinking to develop the best way to utilize photovoltaic cells to obtain energy.

SWBAT determine the best atmosphere for photovoltaic cells

SWBAT compose a description of what an optimal solar farm would look like

Students will compose a three-paragraph description of what they believe an optimal solar farm
would look like. Students must include:

The location of their farm

The amount of solar panels they would use
How their panels would be arranged
Any other innovations they see fit that will help generate the highest level of energy per cell

Paragraph 1 Introduction to solar energy, what it is and how it works

Paragraph 2 The logistics of their farm, how it is set up
Paragraph 3 The rationale/reasoning for why they set up their farm the way they did,
including data as evidence for their reasoning

Students will need to have previously discussed what energy is. It would also be helpful for
students to have learned about renewable energy.
Small solar PV cell with at least a 0.4 V output (these can be obtained from most scientific supply
companies and electronics stores)
30 cm of wire (approximately 22 gauge)
DC ammeter with a range of approximately 010 amps
DC voltmeter with a low rating (1 or 5 VDC minimum rating is fine.
A strongly directional light source, such as a shaded desk lamp or flashlight
Magnifying glass or cardboard and aluminum foil
Small motor (approximately 1.5 VDC) or flashlight bulb

Energy: The ability to do work

Solar Energy: power obtained by harnessing the energy of the sun's rays
Photovoltaic Cell: a cell that converts solar energy into electricity
Solar Farm: an installation or area of land in which a large number of solar panels are set up in
order to generate electricity.
1. Discuss with students the technology of photovoltaics and describe how a PV cell works.
Share the vocabulary and definitions with students.
a. What are photovoltaic cells made of?
i. Polysilicon quartz
ii. Semiconductor
b. How do PV cells work?
i. When light energy strikes the solar cell, electrons are knocked loose from the
atoms in the semiconductor material. If electrical conductors are attached to
the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit, the electrons can
be captured in the form of an electric current -- that is, electricity (From NASA
c. Has anyone seen a solar cell or solar panel before? Where?
2. Distribute the solar cells. Tell students to be careful; PV cells are fragile. You may want to attach
the cells to a stiff backing before class.
3. First, show students that PV cells can generate electricity by demonstrating how a solar cell
connected to a light bulb can power the light bulb when held in light. Ask each group to replicate
this by attaching their own wires of their cells to the end of a flashlight bulb or a small DC motor.
Have students put their cells under an intense lamp or in sunlight to show that their cells work like
the demonstration.
4. Have students attach their PV cell to an ammeter. Make sure the positive and negative ends of
the PV cell wires match up with the ammeter. Assign one student in each group to measure and

another to record the current for the experiments on their groups worksheet. Have each group do
one of the following experiments and share their findings with the class:
EXPERIMENT 1: How does light intensity affect how much electricity a solar cell can produce?
Procedure: Have students place the PV cell at distances of 4 cm, 12 cm, and 25 cm from a strongly
directional light source other than the sun (a shaded desk lamp is good). The solar cell should be
held facing directly at the light source. Ask students to measure the current of the cell at 4 cm, 12
cm, and 25 cm from the light source. Have students graph the results.
EXPERIMENT 2: How does the angle to the light source affect how much electricity a solar cell
can produce?
Procedure: Have students place their PV cells on a horizontal surface in direct sunlight (either
outside or on a sunny window sill). Measure the current. Then, have them point the PV cell directly
at the sun: slant it so that its shadow is directly behind it, with the cells face perpendicular to the
suns rays (one way to discover the suns direction is to insert a stick in the ground and tilt it until it
has no shadow). Measure the current. Students might also measure the PV cells current at
decreasing 15 intervals from the perpendicular (90, 75, 60, 45, 30, and 15), then graph the
measurement. The result should be a sinusoidal curve.
EXPERIMENT 3: How does concentrating the light affect how much electricity a solar cell can
Procedure: Have students measure the current of a PV cell under a light source (a lamp or the sun).
Then, have them concentrate the light source on the cell with a magnifying glass (move the
magnifying glass around until a bright area appears on the cell). Measure the new current.
Alternatively, students can make a cardboard reflector. Cut out a cardboard shape and glue
aluminum foil on the four flaps. Place the solar cell in the base and fold up the four side flaps to
reflect light on the cell. Measure the new current
5. Summarize your findings by averaging together the measurements of all the groups.
6. Tell students about recent improvements and discoveries in photovoltaic technology such as thin
film or amorphous silicon cells. Include information about solar farms. Share with them some
information about the solar farm Augua Caliente in Arizona:
8. Tell students that they will use the knowledge they have gained today to compose a threeparagraph description of what they think an ideal solar farm would look like. They should include
how many solar panels are on their farm, where their farm is located, how the panels are organized
on their farm, if their panels are at an angle and what angle they are at, if they have any way of
concentrating the light on their cells, etc. They must explain why they chose what they did for their
farm using the data collected today as evidence for their reasoning. Students should organize their

writing in a way that someone who does not know about solar energy and how it works would be
able to understand their description and reasoning. Once they have met the requirements,
encourage students to include their own ideas for ways to improve solar energy harvesting.
Paragraph 1 Introduction to solar energy, what it is and how it works
Paragraph 2 The logistics of their farm, how it is set up
Paragraph 3 The rationale/reasoning for why they set up their farm the way they did,
including data as evidence for their reasoning
This lesson was from a unit designed by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Their full unit can be
found at the address below:
For information on solar cells:
This lesson allows for students to utilize strategic thinking and futures thinking. Strategic thinking is
being able to see the bigger picture, designing and implementing ideas to promote sustainable
living, and describing the efficiency of sustainable solutions. This occurs when students brainstorm
the best ways to set up a solar far. Students will collect data and analyze the results. Then they will
apply their data and analysis to describing the ideal solar farm. This lesson also involves futures
thinking. Futures thinking occurs when students think able what it will take to create a sustainable
future and cope with potential ideas and their consequences. Students will be encouraged to
contribute their own ideas on how to improve solar energy harvesting which allows them to think
about how we could change solar power in the future.