Here Comes the Sun

At Chapin, bright ideas abound. A wonderful example of this occurred recently in Class 8 Science where students developed enlightening ways to harness the sun’s brilliant power. During a unit on solar engineering, the girls strengthened their understanding of this source of renewable energy through a sophisticated, hands-on project that asked them to build a sun-loving prototype that was both efficient and sustainable.

Solar energy holds vast potential for safeguarding our planet. Traditional electricity sources from fossil fuels (like coal and natural gas) produce harmful emissions that pollute the air and contribute to global warming. This is not the case with solar energy, which is clean, free and in unlimited supply. Thus, solar engineers -- and their transformative ideas -- are highly sought after in numerous industries from power companies to scientific research firms.

With this reality in mind, the Class 8 Science team (Science Department Head David Arnstein and teachers Prasad Akavoor and Elaine Pan) immersed their students in the quickly evolving world of solar engineering. Divided into 17 teams in total, they began by assembling a solar tower using thin pieces of pre-cut wood, a solar panel (about the size of a mobile phone), a motor and a small fan. With the solar tower serving as a basic foundation, the challenge was to take solar energy to an exciting new level by significantly enhancing this simple construction.

Guided by their teachers’ questions -- How are you going improve your solar tower? What problems does the tower have? Which ones will you try to fix/improve and why? –each team conducted three different experiments, carefully recording their objectives, hypotheses, research and findings on a planning sheet. From the three, they chose one to pitch to their fellow classmates, who would ultimately vote for their favorite. To be successful, brainstorming, problem solving and creative collaboration were key.

During a morning visit to Room 600, students in Mr. Arnstein’s class were in the throes of preparing for their two-minute pitches. Arranged around the lab in small clusters, the four teams practiced their scripts and finalized their slides. One group made sure its equipment – the solar tower, a high-wattage lamp, and four aluminum panels – was in working order. Others wrote out what they planned to say on index cards. Mr. Arnstein circulated around the room, helping his students navigate any last-minute adjustments.

Finally, pitch day arrived. The students were eager, if a little nervous, to deliver their presentations. Some worried they would forget their lines or would exceed the two-minute limit. The teams picked slips of paper to determine the presentation order. “Give your best!” encouraged Mr. Arnstein before setting the timer and pushing “play” on the video camera. (Every team pitch was videotaped enabling all students to watch them on their own.)

The teams in each Class 8 section gave innovative pitches chockfull of well-researched facts, eye-catching graphics and high-spirited marketing acumen. From a solar thermal electrical generator to a dual-axis solar tracker to an invention called the “Color Shifter” that regulates energy through hued panels, it was immediately clear how much time, hard work and imagination went into these inventions and captivating pitches.

The students also had fun coming up with the persuasive slogans to help sell their new and improved solar towers. “What happens when a solar panel can’t take the heat?” one team wondered. Another exclaimed, “Our results were off the charts!” A third confidently declared, “Our experiment is the solar panel of the future!”

After watching the presentation videos and with the help of Google Forms, every student then cast a vote for the best solar energy pitch, imagining she was a potential investor deciding where to commit her funds. While the winning project hasn’t been announced as of this writing, all teams contributed in meaningful and lasting ways to this forward-looking initiative. While learning about the importance of renewable energy, they spearheaded real-world applications for harnessing the power of the sun and protecting our planet. Investors would be wise to take note of the incredibly bright ideas Class 8’s solar engineers have brought to the table.

Browse photos from the class below: