Sun Shines on engineering future in South Yorkshire
Solar Energy Embedded Into School Curriculum

Young people in South Yorkshire have been building solar model cars and boats as part of the EPSRC ‘Engineering a Better World’ (EBW) case study initiative since 2003 to develop their enterprise skills and enthusiasm in science, technology engineering and mathematics; encouraging them to study and enter into careers in engineering and its relationship to issues of sustainability, climate change and global warming.

The solar car/boat educational resources were developed by the Plugging into the Sun® initiative of the Sheffield based, Schools & Homes Energy Education Project. These resources support an approach to learning that focuses on stimulating student’s interest and involves real life applications of scientific concepts while providing opportunities to use inventive, creative, problem solving skills crucial to scientific and inventive thinking; making science enjoyable to learn and teach.

One of the EBW interventions is the Solar Detectives Case Study. Students from 10 schools in South Yorkshire and the Humber, (mostly Key stage 3) have been designing their own model solar car prototypes for conducting experiments and racing, allowing them to apply knowledge gained across subject boundaries. The scheme has encouraged school departments to work collaboratively across e.g. Design & Technology, Physical Sciences, Mathematics, Biology, Citizenship and Geography.

The schools participating in the Solar Detective Case Study are making every effort to embed the solar energy tasks into their Schemes of Work. Two schools have been so impressed with results and feedback from their students they have integrated it into their schemes of work prior to the EPSRC evaluation being competed at the end of the year.

Steve Barnett from Swinton Secondary School, Rotherham explained how valuable the case study had been, especially the “Fun element” of the Solar Challengers “I would whole heartedly support the programme if it were ‘rolled out’ Nationally….The success with the solar car has been very beneficial at Swinton and it is now embedded into our Schemes of Work for future years.”

Chris Williams at Eckington Secondary School, Sheffield has also embedded the Solar Challenge into a cross-curricula Schemes of Work, to quote: “Geography gave input about sources of energy. Science linked to the incident light on solar cells and carried out measurements for the speed of the buggy and measured electrical output of the cells. Design & Technology offered their expertise in construction and design as well as the testing of the completed buggy. Mathematics helped with calculations and suggested ways of analysing the data. The enthusiasm of the pupils was clear to see from the outset and has been maintained for the whole activity that was spread over many weeks. The students were even willing to give up time after school to continue with the project. In 2006, the team “GoGreen” went on to represent the area at the National BA CREST awards in London. They did extremely well coming away with second prize in the country.”

The Schools & Homes Energy Education Project in collaboration with the Centre for Science Education, Sheffield Hallam University has provided Continuing Professional Development support to all the teachers participating in the Solar Detective Case Study, to enrich their skills and to encourage students to use their initiative, innovation and mechanical skills in exploring modern and relevant issues e.g. Global Warming and Climate Change.

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