Learning about solar power can be an enjoyable experience. With hands-on projects, students can see, feel and taste the science of solar energy. From simple projects, solar energy can be explained, and more complex experiments encourage the kids to prepare themselves for real-world applications that can be incorporated into everyday life.
Add tea bags to a glass jar of water and place it in direct sunlight for several hours. The resulting tea is flavorful, and the experiment not only demonstrates a simple use for solar energy, it also explores the science solubility as the tea slowly permeates throughout the container. Other experiments could include using reflective and absorbent colored walls around the jar to determine which materials are more suitable for solar energy projects of other types.
A simple solar water heater can be constructed using PVC pipe. Build a grid of piping that allows water to flow through the device, and place it in an open box with reflective surfaces made from foil or other white or or silvery materials. To speed up the process of heating water, paint the PVC a flat black, allowing it to better absorb the heat being reflected from the encasing box.
Building a working solar panel is a perfect project to get the whole class involved. Solar cells are available at hobby shops and electronics stores, such as Radio Shack. Purchase a set of 36 solar cells, and build a frame to contain the finished panel. The class can be split into different groups, one that builds the frame, another that puts the cells together to form a panel, and a group that can test the panel and provide demonstrations. For more advanced solar projects, multiple panels can be tied together and fed into a deep cycle battery such as a boat battery, illustrating how solar energy can be stored for later use.
Generating solar energy is a fun project, but actually seeing that energy in action can be exciting. Small motors can be fitted with a small propeller that creates a breeze when the panel is active. To experiment with this project, demonstrate how the fan will speed up or slow down as sunlight is partially blocked from the panel that powers the fan.
Once students understand the basics of solar energy, more advanced projects are possible. Multiple panels can be linked together to provide more electricity, and the class can experiment with how many panels are required to operate different household items such as a radio, and table lamp, or other electronic equipment. To keep things simple, only use items that require DC current, as AC will require additional apparatus and can become a lot more expensive.