Students can now take a walk through a solar plant in Amareleja, Portugal, explore the sun up-close or design their own solar arrays without ever leaving their seats — through the Solar Technology Curriculum at Stone Lab.
These interactive lessons allow students to understand the importance of renewable energy and to dive into the data generated by solar technology at the lab.
“The curriculum offers numerous opportunities to employ a variety of teaching styles and is applicable to students from elementary age to adults,” says Angela Greene, an Ohio Sea Grant lead educator. “It also provides educators with an abundant resource about solar energy and technology they can use in the classroom; lessons about how solar energy is transformed; and information for the public about the solar facilities and sustainability efforts at the lab.”
Greene and others combined their expertise to develop the sought-after program using an interactive educational learning platform called Nearpod to design and distribute the lessons. The Nearpod product allows students to experience an immersive lesson without leaving the classroom.
“We also have the curriculum written so that it can be used with our field trip program,” Greene adds, explaining that youth and adults visit the lab for hands-on activities. As an example, visitors may disassemble solar-operated toys to understand how they use the sun’s energy.
Aside from providing an educational experience, the solar installations, constructed in 2012, fulfill expectations of sustainably generating power for Stone Lab. Panels on the roof of the classroom building and in the solar pavilion provide 10 to 25 percent of Gibraltar Island’s electricity needs. Thermal tubes on the dining hall heat most of the water used there from spring through fall.
Greene and Stone Lab educators Lyndsey Manzo and Sue Bixler, along with Ohio Sea Grant’s Assistant Director Kristen Fussell and Program Administrator Erin Monaco, collaborated on the project to develop the curriculum using the Stone Lab solar installations. They continue to use the lessons and intend to expand the program.
Eric Romich, an Ohio State Extension field specialist in energy education, also helped create the program and incorporates it in his teaching. He explains how the lessons can be used by a wide variety of teachers in subjects ranging from basic math and science to more complex energy concepts.
“This curriculum helps students connect the dots between the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills they learn in the classroom, and how in how the solar industry utilizes these skills to design and develop solar projects throughout Ohio.”
Students can use information from the lessons or from an online dashboard, which provides real-time data generated from Stone Lab’s solar arrays, to understand how it works with the sun and in the real world.
“By drawing connections between the STEM skills they are learning in the classroom and how solar system design and construction impacts the performance of real projects, students can better understand the value of what they are learning and how it is applied in real life conditions,” Romich says.
Visitors to the solar pavilion can experiment with the technology by manually adjusting panels toward or away from the sun to make the most efficient use of its energy depending on the time of day. Then they analyze the real-time data to see how the two factors interact.
Dr. Chris Winslow, the current director of the Ohio Sea Grant college program, explains more about the success of the program and how it has been expanded out of just classrooms and to 4-H programs, college students or to adults who just want to learn more about renewable energy.
“The curriculum really has gone beyond our original plans and then some. The partnerships were huge because they were able to get the ball rolling, especially for the curriculum and all the other educational pieces that have followed,” Winslow says.
Winslow likes to be involved in as many ways as possible, which gives him great insight to how the curriculum has been achieving its initial expectations.
“There’s us Ohio Sea Grant people, but without the interest from all of the educators, students, investors and partners, we couldn’t teach these lessons and we wouldn’t have been able to create the extra activities from the original content.”
“It has been interesting to see how solar energy has become a topic of interest with the general public and the younger generation,” Romich adds. “This is what is so important about teaching them the ‘Why?’ of using of solar technology. This is what the curriculum does the best job of – connecting the dots for the students.”
The solar curriculum is available at ohioseagrant.osu.edu/education/resources.
Funding for the solar installations was supplied by the Ohio State’s Sustainability Institute with the support and advice of the Ohio State President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability, the Ohio State Office of Research, and the Friends of Stone Laboratory.