Photo of a team of middle school students competing in a knowledge game during the Solar Decathlon 2013 School Days.

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

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Solar Decathlon Curriculum

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon presents an incredible learning opportunity for schools, educators, students, and community members worldwide to explore the potential of solar energy. The Solar Decathlon is an inherently educational event that challenges college students to demonstrate best practices for solar power and energy efficiency, and the Department of Energy wants to extend this learning opportunity to as many classrooms and educational settings as possible. The educational resource packet presented here helps accomplish this goal.

Lesson 1: The Importance of the Sun: An Introduction and Overview of Solar Energy

In this lesson, students will investigate the development and use of solar power. They will examine the role of the sun as a source of energy and explore how humanity has relied on the sun to provide energy for our lives. Solar techniques ranging from using sunlight to warm houses to the latest technologies such as advances in photovoltaic solar power will be discussed. Students will explore pre-Industrial Revolution uses of solar energy and technological advances using a Solar Decathlon house as an example. This lesson also covers the potential energy inherent in the sun's daily output and includes activities to enhance student understanding of our daily connection to the sun.

Grade level: 5-8
Subjects: Science and Visual Arts
Length: 2-3 class periods
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Lesson 2: How Solar Panels Work

In this lesson, students will learn that sunlight is the underlying component of energy use. Students will examine atoms as the basic building blocks of matter, including electrons, protons, and neutrons, and explore how these building blocks are used with the element silicon (Si) to produce energy. Students will perform two interactive activities to further their understanding of this concept. Finally, students will investigate careers in solar energy and report on the growing solar industry.

Grade level: 7-8
Subjects: Science
Length: 2-3 class periods
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Lesson 3: Solar Panels — A Life Story

As solar power gains popularity, solar panels are quickly becoming a part of everyday life. However, the public knows surprisingly little about these energy sources. Where do solar panels come from? How do they work? How much do they really cost? This lesson plan will guide students toward answers by exploring the many factors that influence how solar panels are manufactured.

Grade level: 7-9
Subjects: Science and Economics
Length: 3-4 class periods
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Lesson 4: Solar Power and Me: The Inherent Advantages

In this uniquely interdisciplinary lesson, students will identify and understand the basic concepts of how photovoltaic solar panels work as a renewable energy source and use best-fit mathematical regression models using a TI-83 or TI-84 calculator to make predictions and solve real-life problems concerning solar energy in the United States. This lesson uses real data from a 2-kW photovoltaic solar panel system at a rural high school in North Carolina and historical energy statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on solar growth in the United States to teach students the basics of renewable energy?especially photovoltaic solar.

Grade level: 8-12
Subjects: Math (Algebra I and II)
Length: 90 minutes
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