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published by the National Energy Education Development Project
Available Languages: English, Spanish
This inquiry-based curriculum unit for Grades 1-3 introduces children to basic concepts of solar energy. It is noteworthy because the developers approach energy as a physical science concept, rather than as a fuel or source of power. Learners conduct investigations with live plants, UV detection beads, light sensitive paper, a radiometer, and glow toys. The culminating activity is the design, building, and testing of a solar oven. Specific science concepts covered include: visible light and ultraviolet light as parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, the water cycle and wind production, engineering design, asking scientific questions, gathering data, and conversion of light energy to heat. The resource provides lesson plans, warm-up questions, detailed lab procedures, and classroom presentation materials for teaching an entire unit.

See Related Materials for a companion unit, also developed by NEED, for Grades 4-5 that extends the concepts of this unit.

The NEED Project is a national initiative to bring innovative curriculum materials in energy education to teachers and learners from the primary grades through college.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
Education Foundations
- Cognition
= Cognition Development
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Inquiry Learning
- Instructional Material Design
= Project
- Pedagogy
= Multidisciplinary
Electricity & Magnetism
- Electromagnetic Radiation
= Electromagnetic Spectrum
Other Sciences
- Environmental Science
- Life Sciences
- Elementary School
- Instructional Material
= Curriculum
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Unit of Instruction
- Assessment Material
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
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- application/pdf
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© 2010 National Energy Education Development Project
chemical energy, clean energy, energy forms, energy lessons, energy sources, engineering design, green energy, light energy, photovoltaic cell, renewable energy, solar collector, solar oven, thermal energy
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created April 17, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 17, 2020 by Lyle Barbato
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AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • K-2: 1B/P2. Tools such as thermometers, magnifiers, rulers, or balances often give more information about things than can be obtained by just observing things unaided.
  • 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.

4. The Physical Setting

4E. Energy Transformations
  • K-2: 4E/P1. The sun warms the land, air, and water.
  • 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.
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
  • 3-5: 8C/E1. Moving air and water can be used to run machines.
  • 3-5: 8C/E2. Sunlight is used to run many devices.
  • 3-5: 8C/E4. Some people try to reduce the amount of fuels they use in order to conserve resources, reduce pollution, or save money.

11. Common Themes

11C. Constancy and Change
  • K-2: 11C/P3b. Small changes can sometimes be detected by comparing counts or measurements at different times.
  • 3-5: 11C/E2b. Often the best way to tell which kinds of change are happening is to make a table or graph of measurements.

12. Habits of Mind

12A. Values and Attitudes
  • K-2: 12A/P1. Raise questions about the world and be willing to seek answers to these questions by making careful observations and trying things out.
  • 3-5: 12A/E1. Keep clear and accurate records of investigations and observations.
  • 3-5: 12A/E2. Offer reasons for claims and consider reasons suggested by others.
12B. Computation and Estimation
  • K-2: 12B/P1. Use whole numbers in ordering, counting, identifying, measuring, and describing objects and events.
12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • K-2: 12C/P3. Make something out of paper, cardboard, cloth, wood, plastic, metal, or existing objects that can actually be used to perform a task.
  • K-2: 12C/P4. Measure the length in whole units of objects using rulers and tape measures.
  • 3-5: 12C/E3. Keep written or electronic records of information so that the records are understandable weeks or months later.
12D. Communication Skills
  • K-2: 12D/P3. Interpret pictures, drawings, and videos of real-world objects and events.
  • 3-5: 12D/E3. Use numerical data in describing and comparing objects and events.
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NEED Project: The Sun and Its Energy (National Energy Education Development Project, Manassas, 2010), <>.
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NEED Project: The Sun and Its Energy. (2010). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from National Energy Education Development Project:
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National Energy Education Development Project. NEED Project: The Sun and Its Energy. Manassas: National Energy Education Development Project, 2010. (accessed 6 February 2023).
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@misc{ Title = {NEED Project: The Sun and Its Energy}, Publisher = {National Energy Education Development Project}, Volume = {2023}, Number = {6 February 2023}, Year = {2010} }
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NEED Project: The Sun and Its Energy:

Is Part Of NEED: National Energy Education Development Project

A link to the home page of NEED, which contains more than 100 comprehensive curriculum guides for inquiry-based explorations of the physics and chemistry of energy.

relation by Caroline Hall
Accompanies NEED Project: Energy From The Sun

This 8-part curriculum unit extends the solar energy investigation, as kids in Grades 4-5 learn about photovoltaic cells, conversion of radiant energy to chemical energy, measuring heat intensity with a radiometer, and building a solar house with a working PV cell.

relation by Caroline Hall

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