The Solar Decathlon: Not Just for College Students Anymore

This past Monday and Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon was more than just a competition on the National Mall; it was also the host for Education Days, an exciting combination of tours, presentations and fun attended by over 4,000 middle and high school students from across the Mid-Atlantic region. The goal? Teach students about solar energy in an exciting way. For most groups, the day started with tours of the Solar Decathlon homes – a chance for students to ask questions of the building’s designers (who were not all that much older as college students). However, the central event for every group was the education workshop in the main tent on the National Mall.

The workshop was all about solar energy and efficiency, and students were able to win solar backpacks, iPods, induction burners for science classrooms and Solar Decathlon gear! Earth Day Network’s Education Team helped to lead the presentations with an interactive game for students and teachers. Instead of “The Price is Right,” the schools were competing in the far more educational, “Solar is Right.” They earned points by answering seven questions correctly on solar energy. Then, the two teams with the most points went onto the Solar Showdown, a game in which they had to correctly order the steps of how sunlight can power a light bulb in a home. The Solar Showdown winner got a solar backpack, an iPod and an induction burner for the classroom. How cool!                                                        

In just one hour sessions, students learned “the basics” such as the distance between the sun and the earth, the sun’s age, and more complex ideas including how long it takes energy from the sun’s core to reach its surface (check out the answer). All of these concepts can be expanded upon in the classroom, and the corresponding Solar Decathlon 2011 Curriculum – written by Earth Day Network’s Education team – is a fantastic way to do just that! If you didn’t have the chance to visit the 2011 Solar Decathlon, we encourage you to check out the curriculum for solar learning opportunities in your classroom or investigate the innovative features of any of the 19 solar homes online! Go Solar!

Hope Winburn is an Education Intern at Earth Day Network. 

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Energy