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This is a inquiry-based lab for Grades 9-12 that explores how solar energy is gathered and transferred to electrical energy in solar panels. Students work in teams to disassemble a calculator, evaluate the design and operation of its component parts, and recommend changes to improve functionality through redesign. The lesson specifically focuses on photovoltaic technology and how it works in a solar cell. In the introductory physics classroom, the lesson could help students understand that semiconductor physics is the basis for most solar cells currently in production.

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 TryEngineering.org, maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Editor's Note: Visualizing the atomic interactions that occur in photon emission can help students build a better foundation to understand the physics behind active solar design. See Related Materials for links to an excellent computer modeling activity by Concord Consortium and an interactive look inside a virtual solar cell.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electromagnetic Radiation
- Semiconductors and Tubes
= Semiconductors
General Physics
- Equipment
= Electronic Equipment
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
- Audio/Visual
= Illustration
= Photograph
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2006 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
Keywords:
active solar, active solar energy, applied physics, engineering activity, engineering lessons, photoelectric effect, photovoltaic, photovoltaic cell, photovoltaic lab, solar panels
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 27, 2012 by Gnana Subramaniam
Record Updated:
November 6, 2014 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
April 6, 2011
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 9-12: 3A/H4. Engineers use knowledge of science and technology, together with strategies of design, to solve practical problems. Scientific knowledge provides a means of estimating what the behavior of things will be even before they are made. Moreover, science often suggests new kinds of behavior that had not even been imagined before, and so leads to new technologies.
3B. Design and Systems
  • 9-12: 3B/H3. Complex systems have layers of controls. Some controls operate particular parts of the system and some control other controls. Even fully automatic systems require human control at some point.

4. The Physical Setting

4B. The Earth
  • 9-12: 4B/H8. The earth has many natural resources of great importance to human life. Some are readily renewable, some are renewable only at great cost, and some are not renewable at all.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 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.
  • 6-8: 4E/M6. Light and other electromagnetic waves can warm objects. How much an object's temperature increases depends on how intense the light striking its surface is, how long the light shines on the object, and how much of the light is absorbed.

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
  • 6-8: 12C/M5. Analyze simple mechanical devices and describe what the various parts are for; estimate what the effect of making a change in one part of a device would have on the device as a whole.
12D. Communication Skills
  • 6-8: 12D/M6. Present a brief scientific explanation orally or in writing that includes a claim and the evidence and reasoning that supports the claim.

This resource is part of 2 Physics Front Topical Units.


Topic: Conservation of Energy
Unit Title: Energy Transformation

How do solar panels work to gather energy from the sun and transform it to electrical energy? In this inquiry-based lab, students work in teams to disassemble a calculator, evaluate the design and operation of its component parts, and improve functionality through redesign. The lesson specifically focuses on photovoltaic technology to get kids excited about semiconductor physics. Includes problem set.

Link to Unit:

Topic: Electromagnetism and Electromagnets
Unit Title: Electromagnetic Fields

How do solar panels work to gather energy from the sun and transform it to electrical energy? In this inquiry-based lab, students work in teams to disassemble a calculator, evaluate the design and operation of its component parts, and improve functionality through redesign. The lesson specifically focuses on photovoltaic technology to get kids excited about semiconductor physics. Includes problem set.

Link to Unit:
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2006), WWW Document, (http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun).
AJP/PRST-PER
TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun, (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2006), <http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun. (2011, April 6). Retrieved December 22, 2014, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, April 6, 2011. http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun (accessed 22 December 2014).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2006. 6 Apr. 2011. International Business Machines. 22 Dec. 2014 <http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2014}, Number = {22 December 2014}, Month = {April 6, 2011}, Year = {2006} }
Refer Export Format

%T TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun
%D April 6, 2011
%I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
%U http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun
%O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D April 6, 2011
%T TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun
%I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
%V 2014
%N 22 December 2014
%8 April 6, 2011
%9 application/pdf
%U http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/here-comes-sun


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TryEngineering: Here Comes the Sun:

Is Supplemented By Concord Consortium: Excited States and Photons

Concept-building set of sequenced computer models allows students to explore the nature of photons (wave packets of light) and how they are emitted.

relation by Caroline Hall
Same topic as Teachers' Domain: Inside a Solar Cell

Interactive activity depicts how a photovoltaic cell converts solar energy into electricity. High-quality illustrations help learners understand how component parts work together.

relation by Caroline Hall

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