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New hands-on learning opportunity coming to Bowen's Corner Elementary

Published on Wednesday, March 4, 2020

bowen's corner receiving new solar panel

BCSD photo / Monica Kreber : Lauren Rice

Bowen’s Corner Elementary students will be dabbling in a new, innovative way to learn about solar energy next school year with the help of a solar panel.

The school’s art teacher, Lauren Rice, applied for the grant earlier this school year after learning about it on Facebook.

The school is receiving a 1.2-kilowatt photovoltaic system that converts sunlight to electric power, as well as technical support, educational materials and training for teachers. Each solar array will have a visual display that shows students and faculty real-time date on the amount of electricity generated.

Each array will generate enough electricity to power up to 18 desktop computers, 40 10-gallon aquariums or 15 42-inch LED televisions.

Bowen’s Corner Elementary is one of 16 schools across Virginia and North and South Carolina that is receiving a solar panel as part of the Solar for Students Program, which aims to give students a hands-on experience with solar energy.

Rice said it is exciting to receive the new equipment. She envisions students being able to walk out to the panel at recess and being able to report how much energy has been produced one day.

“I think that will be an exciting factor for them,” she said.

She received help with laying out student standards in the grant by Instructional Coach Courtney Blue.

Blue said students learn about renewable and non-renewable energy and what could happen when the non-renewable energy runs out.

“Sometimes those problems are so big for young children to think about, that having something that they can actually see and read and learn from in the school is going to make it more conceptual to them,” she said.

The Solar for Students program started in 2015 with four public schools and has since expanded.

"We're excited to provide the opportunity for more children to learn about solar energy," Hunter A. Applewhite, president of the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation, said in a press release. "This program will give students a better understanding of a renewable energy source that will play an important role in a clean energy future."

Dominion Energy currently has more than 60 solar projects operating or under development in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, and owns the fourth-largest solar fleet among utility holding companies in the United States. Investing in solar energy is part of Dominion Energy's commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, according to the press release. 

bowen's corner receiving new solar panel

Provided photo : The new solar panel will be similar to this one that was previously installed at a different school.

The panel will be featured on a stick about six feet tall. The panel is about 10 feet wide. It will be surrounded by a fence and benches for students to sit on while they’re reading data.

The school will participate in a “Solarbration” featuring a ribbon cutting ceremony once the panel is installed. The target install date is roughly mid-April and the Solarbration will likely be held in August.

The NEED Project (National Energy Education Development) will administer the program by providing technical support, coordinating the installation of solar panels, preparing educational materials for students, and training the teachers.

Students will be able to track the generation of electric power by viewing their data online and can challenge other participating schools around the world to a solar power match. They will learn about their state's energy resources and how weather and temperature impact solar electricity. Students will also help choose school colors or other designs for their solar array.

As a STEAM school, Bowen’s Corner Elementary’s main focus with the solar panel will be geared toward the third-grade STEAM unit for the 2020-2021 school year. The STEAM unit will allow all third-graders to use the data tracked for different projects.

Current third-grade standards include gathering information to develop models showing how electrical energy can be transformed into other forms of energy (including motion, sound, heat or light).

On March 17, Rice, Blue and a third-grade teacher are going to go to Columbia for curriculum training regarding the solar panel. They will learn about hands-on forms of energy lessons that will help explain the forms of energy, and energy transformations, to students, as well as how to use and read data in the classroom.

“I’m excited to get some ideas and think about how we can do it here,” Blue said.

Rice used to be a robotics coach and never dabbled in solar panel robots, but it was something she was interested in. Students already learn about solar energy through activities such as creating solar ovens with pizza boxes in Makerspace, or they make solar pinwheels in their art class.

Rice said the students will focus more on how to read it and what solar energy is used for. It is being installed on the playground, near the school building’s electrical panels.

While the school’s main focus will be on the third-graders, solar energy can still be integrated into all the grade levels. For example, first-graders currently conduct structured investigations to answer questions about the effect of sunlight on the earth’s surface.

“I think once it gets installed and we really explain to the students and get them hyped up…I think just getting through the STEAM unit in the fall, we’ll be much more prepared for the SEAM units in the spring to incorporate some of the other grade levels,” Rice said.