Students Brighten Their Education at 2011 Solar Decathlon

On September 26-27, middle school students from across the Mid-Atlantic made their way to the National Mall for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon. This competition between university teams to design and build cost plus energy efficient (and attractive!) solar-powered houses. I was assigned as a mentor to thirty-three students from George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, VA. I never had the opportunity to learn about green buildings until I was in high school, so it meant a lot to me that kids as young as eleven years old were surrounded by tons of information about solar energy and our environment.

Out of the nineteen participating teams, the students were most impressed by the Appalachian State University “Solar Homestead” and the University of South Florida’s house. The students immediately noticed the solar panels adorning almost every roof and began asking multiple questions about solar energy. I was thrilled to find that the students were so interested in solar energy and learning as much as they could during their visit. After finishing touring one house, they were anxious to get to the next one. I had fun reassuring them that we would make it to all of the homes they wanted to see.

For most of the students at the event, it was the first time that they had seen a solar-powered home or had the opportunity to explore one. The teachers and parents accompanying the students were also very impressed as well and happy that their children were not only learning so much about solar energy, but also learning in an interactive fashion that was fun for everyone involved!

The Solar Decathlon is a great way for kids to learn about solar energy and see first-hand how it actually works. I hope that students continue to visit the biennial event and take what they learn back to the classroom and find ways to apply the knowledge they gained to their own lives.

Hope Winburn is an Intern in the Education Department at Earth Day Network.