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published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
supported by the International Business Machines
This is a 3-day unit for Grades 5-8 that explores principles of passive solar design as students work on teams to build a solar structure with four walls, four windows, two doors, and a roof. Learners must consider ventilation, materials choices, and orientation of the structure for optimal heat absorption. Principles of conduction, convection, and radiation are addressed in the lesson. After construction, students test their solar houses to determine how well they regulate temperature.

The lesson follows a module format that includes objectives and learner outcomes, problem sets, student guides, recommended reading, illustrated procedures, worksheets, and background information about the engineering connections. This collection is part of a website maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electromagnetic Radiation
Other Sciences
- Engineering
Thermo & Stat Mech
- First Law
= Heat Transfer
- Middle School
- Elementary School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
= Unit of Instruction
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
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- Learners
- application/pdf
- application/ms-word
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Safety Warnings
Minimal Danger   No Safety Equipment Necessary  

Access Rights:
Free access
© 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
applied physics, conduction, convection, engineering activity, engineering design, engineering lessons, heat, heating and air conditioning
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 27, 2012 by Gnana Subramaniam
Record Updated:
March 16, 2015 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
December 4, 2010
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • 3-5: 1B/E1. Scientific investigations may take many different forms, including observing what things are like or what is happening somewhere, collecting specimens for analysis, and doing experiments.
  • 3-5: 1B/E2b. One reason for following directions carefully and for keeping records of one's work is to provide information on what might have caused differences in investigations.
  • 6-8: 1B/M1b. Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.

3. The Nature of Technology

3B. Design and Systems
  • 3-5: 3B/E1. There is no perfect design. Designs that are best in one respect (safety or ease of use, for example) may be inferior in other ways (cost or appearance). Usually some features must be sacrificed to get others.
  • 6-8: 3B/M1. Design usually requires taking into account not only physical and biological constraints, but also economic, political, social, ethical, and aesthetic ones.
  • 6-8: 3B/M3a. Almost all control systems have inputs, outputs, and feedback.
  • 6-8: 3B/M3bc. The essence of control is comparing information about what is happening to what people want to happen and then making appropriate adjustments. This procedure requires sensing information, processing it, and making changes.

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 3-5: 4D/E6. All materials have certain physical properties, such as strength, hardness, flexibility, durability, resistance to water and fire, and ease of conducting heat.
  • 6-8: 4D/M9. Materials vary in how they respond to electric currents, magnetic forces, and visible light or other electromagnetic waves.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 3-5: 4E/E2b. When warmer things are put with cooler ones, heat is transferred from the warmer ones to the cooler ones.
  • 3-5: 4E/E2c. A warmer object can warm a cooler one by contact or at a distance.
  • 6-8: 4E/M3. Thermal energy is transferred through a material by the collisions of atoms within the material. Over time, the thermal energy tends to spread out through a material and from one material to another if they are in contact. Thermal energy can also be transferred by means of currents in air, water, or other fluids. In addition, some thermal energy in all materials is transformed into light energy and radiated into the environment by electromagnetic waves; that light energy can be transformed back into thermal energy when the electromagnetic waves strike another material. As a result, a material tends to cool down unless some other form of energy is converted to thermal energy in the material.
4F. Motion
  • 3-5: 4F/E3. Light travels and tends to maintain its direction of motion until it interacts with an object or material. Light can be absorbed, redirected, bounced back, or allowed to pass through.

8. The Designed World

8C. Energy Sources and Use
  • 6-8: 8C/M5. Energy from the sun (and the wind and water energy derived from it) is available indefinitely. Because the transfer of energy from these resources is weak and variable, systems are needed to collect and concentrate the energy.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 3-5: 12C/E1. Choose appropriate common materials for making simple mechanical constructions and repairing things.
  • 3-5: 12C/E3. Keep written or electronic records of information so that the records are understandable weeks or months later.
12D. Communication Skills
  • 3-5: 12D/E7. Write a clear and accurate description of a real-world object or event.
  • 6-8: 12D/M1. Organize information in simple tables and graphs and identify relationships they reveal.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Alignments

Measurement and Data (K-5)

Represent and interpret data. (1-5)
  • 3.MD.4 Generate measurement data by measuring lengths using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. Show the data by making a line plot, where the horizontal scale is marked off in appropriate units— whole numbers, halves, or quarters.

Common Core State Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6—12

Text Types and Purposes (6-12)
  • 2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes. (WHST.6-8.2)
Research to Build and Present Knowledge (6-12)
  • WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010), WWW Document, (
TryEngineering: Solar Structures, (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010), <>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Solar Structures. (2010, December 4). Retrieved July 23, 2016, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers:
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Solar Structures. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, December 4, 2010. (accessed 23 July 2016).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Solar Structures. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2010. 4 Dec. 2010. International Business Machines. 23 July 2016 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Solar Structures}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2016}, Number = {23 July 2016}, Month = {December 4, 2010}, Year = {2010} }
Refer Export Format

%T TryEngineering: Solar Structures
%D December 4, 2010
%I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
%O application/pdf

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%0 Electronic Source
%D December 4, 2010
%T TryEngineering: Solar Structures
%I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
%V 2016
%N 23 July 2016
%8 December 4, 2010
%9 application/pdf

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TryEngineering: Solar Structures:

Is Supplemented By NOVA: Saved by the Sun

53-minute video by NOVA takes a realistic view of solar power: its promises, challenges, and the hope it holds for powering the future. Appropriate for Grades 6-12.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic (Different Course Level) As TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing

A somewhat more advanced lab activity for Grades 7-9 that also explores principles of passive solar design.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?

Learners take a virtual tour of a photovoltaic cell to see how it acts to establish an electric field and generate electricity from sunlight.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By NOVA: Capturing Carbon

12-minute video details how a girl's science fair project inspired a geophysicist to design and patent a device to capture carbon dioxide in the air.

relation by Caroline Hall

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Is Supplemented By

NOVA: Saved by the Sun

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