Solar energy is a visible presence at Stone Lab, The Ohio State University’s island campus on Lake Erie. Solar panels on the roof of the lab building and on a pavilion near Gibraltar Island’s southwestern tip create up to a quarter of the lab’s electricity needs during the spring and summer, and solar thermal tubes on the Dining Hall roof provide for all of the building’s hot water needs.
But of course, using solar energy doesn’t stop there for Stone Lab and Ohio Sea Grant staff. Instead, they’ve expanded on the basics of what the technology provides – electricity and heat – and developed Ohio Sea Grant’s Solar Technology Curriculum, which takes advantage of the presence of the solar arrays by offering a complete set of lessons on solar energy that teachers can download and use with their students.
Eric Romich, an OSU Extension field specialist who focuses on energy education, uses some of the lessons, as well as an online dashboard that provides real-time data generated from Stone Lab’s solar arrays, to help his students make a connection between solar technologies and how they function depending on their location and design.
Students can use the real-world data with curriculum lessons and activities to better understand how the panels’ energy production is influenced by the natural environment, according to Romich, who also helped develop the curriculum along with Stone Lab educators Lyndsey Manzo, Angela Greene and Sue Bixler and Ohio Sea Grant’s assistant director Dr. Kristen Fussell.
“It has been interesting to see how solar energy has become a topic of interest with the general public and the younger generation,” Romich added. “It’s important to help students understand how skills they are learning in school apply to the real world. This curriculum helps students connect the dots between the STEM skills they learn in the classroom and the design and development of solar panels they are now seeing installed all throughout Ohio.”
That connection is made with a wide variety of instructional strategies, including teacher-created labs, opportunities to collect live data from an internet dashboard, as well as a solar toy dissection lab enabling students to discover how solar-powered objects function. The content and labs are also available on an instructional technology platform called Nearpod that adds a high level of engagement and interactivity to the learning.
Greene, who took the lead on the development of the Nearpod lessons, also teaches a Stone Lab workshop for educators who want to use Nearpod and the solar lessons in their classroom. “The 50 teachers who have participated in our solar workshops have come from a variety of educational settings, and we try to show them the most effective way our solar materials can help their learners,” she explained.
Development was funded by the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State with support from the Ohio State President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability (PPCS), the Ohio State Office of Research, and the Friends of Stone Laboratory.
Taylor Day, a student communications assistant at the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, contributed to this story.