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published by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering
This investigation for Grades 7-9 engages learners in hands-on exploration of passive solar principles. Students design, construct, and test a 70-square-inch model house in any configuration of their choice. They must consider orientation, heat absorption, thermal mass, color, structural shape, and the effects of different insulation materials. The entire activity requires multiple 50-minute class periods from information gathering through testing. TeachEngineering provides comprehensive content support, lesson plan, warm-up questions, safety guidelines, assessments, and illustrated lab procedurals.  

This resource is part of the TeachEngineering digital library, which provides teacher-tested lessons designed to integrate real-world experiences with curricular content in the K-12 science/math classroom.
Editor's Note: Passive solar design is a good foundation for further study of the physics that underlies active solar devices, such as the photovoltaic cell. It also provides engaging opportunities to learn about heat transfer and thermodynamics. See Related Materials for a free NOVA video on solar energy and a Flash interactive that takes learners inside a virtual solar panel.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Inquiry Learning
Other Sciences
- Environmental Science
Thermo & Stat Mech
- First Law
= Heat Transfer
- Thermal Properties of Matter
- High School
- Middle School
- Instructional Material
= Best practice
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Problem/Problem Set
= Project
= Student Guide
- Assessment Material
= Test
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
- New teachers
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© 2008 Regents of the University of Colorado
climate literacy, energy sources, engineering design, engineering lab, engineering practices, green energy, middle school lab, renewable energy, scientific practices, solar energy
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created August 16, 2012 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 4, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
February 2, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

1. The Nature of Science

1B. Scientific Inquiry
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 9-12: 3B/H6. To reduce the chance of system failure, performance testing is often conducted using small-scale models, computer simulations, analogous systems, or just the parts of the system thought to be least reliable.

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/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.
  • 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.
  • 9-12: 4E/H3. As energy spreads out, whether by conduction, convection, or radiation, the total amount of energy stays the same. However, since it is spread out, less can be done with it.

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.
  • 9-12: 8C/H5. Decisions to slow the depletion of energy resources can be made at many levels, from personal to national, and they always involve trade-offs involving economic costs and social values.

12. Habits of Mind

12C. Manipulation and Observation
  • 6-8: 12C/M3. Make accurate measurements of length, volume, weight, elapsed time, rates, and temperature by using appropriate devices.
  • 9-12: 12C/H3. Troubleshoot common mechanical and electrical systems, check for possible causes of malfunction, and decide on that basis whether to fix it themselves or get help from an expert.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, Boulder, 2008), WWW Document, (https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1).
TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing (Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, Boulder, 2008), <https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1>.
APA Format
TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing. (2010, February 2). Retrieved June 21, 2024, from Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering: https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1
Chicago Format
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering. TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing. Boulder: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, February 2, 2010. https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1 (accessed 21 June 2024).
MLA Format
TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing. Boulder: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering, 2008. 2 Feb. 2010. 21 June 2024 <https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing}, Publisher = {Integrated Teaching and Learning Program: Teach Engineering}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {21 June 2024}, Month = {February 2, 2010}, Year = {2008} }
Refer Export Format

%T TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing %D February 2, 2010 %I Integrated Teaching and Learning Program:  Teach Engineering %C Boulder %U https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1 %O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D February 2, 2010 %T TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing %I Integrated Teaching and Learning Program:  Teach Engineering %V 2024 %N 21 June 2024 %8 February 2, 2010 %9 text/html %U https://www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_housing_lesson05_activity1

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TeachEngineering: Zero-Energy Housing:

Is Supplemented By NOVA: Saved by the Sun

Free 53-minute video by NOVA that explores the promise and challenge of solar energy. Excellent videography and a solid overview of both science and consumer use (appropriate for secondary grades).

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Supplemented By NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?

Flash interactive that takes the learner inside a photovoltaic cell to see the physics behind solar panels.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic (Different Course Level) As TryEngineering: Solar Structures

A somewhat simpler lab activity for Grades 5-7 that also explores principles of passive solar design.

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

Is Supplemented By

NOVA: How Do Solar Panels Work?

Covers the Same Topic (Different Course Level) As

TryEngineering: Solar Structures


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