Every day something happens that most of take for granted. The Sun comes up and the Sun goes down. Of course, we know that it’s actually Earth rotating on its axis that makes the Sun appear to make its daily journey. Earth wouldn't be the same without its daily dose of sunshine supplied by our local star. Most light on Earth depends on the light and heat energy from the Sun.
In our upcoming science module on we will focus our investigations on the Sun’s energy. We’ll start by tracking shadow patterns for a day and think about the information we can get from the constantly changing shadows. We will use thermometers to record temperature changes in earth materials as a result of solar heating, and conduct experiments to discover what materials hold the Sun’s energy most effectively. We will go on to make solar water heaters, sorting out the variables that influence the temperature and heating rate of a water-heater system. In our last investigation, we will investigate model solar homes and identify some of the variables such as insulation and direct sunlight that support energy-efficient solar space heating.
You can extend your child’s learning at home in several ways. Spend some time identifying and talking about the various ways you use energy in your home. Discuss where the energy you use originates. Find a place to “shadow watch” (e.g. a flagpole, tall tree, fence posts, etc.) for several weeks or months and begin to identify patterns and make predictions about where the shadows will appear. Consider what you should wear when you go out on cold days – should you wear a light-colored sweatshirt or a dark-colored sweatshirt? You might contact a local business (or one in the phone-book) that deal with solar water and space heaters for homes and equipment powered by solar cells, which make electricity from direct sunlight.
We won’t be studying solar cells in this unit, but if your child is interested in this important application of solar energy, he or she might choose to do a research project at home to share with the rest of the class.
This learning experience is a chance to build a base understanding of solar energy; an energy source which will undoubtedly assume a much more important role in the future for meeting the energy demands of the world. If you have any questions or expertise to share with the class in this area, please stop by our classroom. We are looking forward to a couple months of enlightening investigation into solar energy.