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A Lean Green Sun Harvesting Machine

carlanes

Originally appears in the Fall 2015 issue

Karen shows me the improvement she has made to her solar powered car; a tail fin made from aluminum. It is curved to reflect light onto the upper side of the car where the solar panel is situated. “But will this make the car go faster?” I ask. “How can you test this?” Karen thinks for a while, “maybe if I test the speed with and without the fin and compare which is quicker?” she suggests with caution.

The typical and rather abstract manner used to teach solar energy to children is with a diagram of a house with a solar panel on the roof. The problem is that electricity is ‘invisible’, it can’t be touched or seen, and this makes teaching about it in a relevant and meaningful manner difficult. How can renewable energy teaching be made more interesting? How can something that is invisible be made visible to young students?

A solar powered model racing-car, developed by science educator David Garlovsky, offers one hands on option to make renewable electricity visible. Based in Sheffield, England, he promotes the cars in primary schools and colleges through the charity ‘Solar Active’. He has been developing this teaching method for over 15 years, complementing the model car with an array of teaching lesson plans, student challenges and support material. The car is somewhat like a Meccano kit, as it comes in pre-assembled pieces that must be assembled by the students in order for it to work. However, unlike a Meccano kit, many of the components are designed with the surreptitious aims of teaching a variety of physics, math or environmental topics. What are the advantages of his car and how can it help in teaching science?

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Mark Walker is a research scientist at Sheffield Hallam University in northern England and is passionate about getting people to realise how special our world is. He has published widely on inquiry-based science. He works for Solar Active helping promote STEM science.

Solar Active is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to promoting solar and renewable energy through education. They work with many local schools, including Eckington School in Sheffield, to deliver project days. For more information or to order the kits visit http://new.solar-active.com/. Email David at: david@solar-active.com.