Practical Action’s new STEM Solar Challenge offers a great opportunity for young people to explore how solar power can transform the lives of people living ‘off-grid’.
Set in the context of Practical Action’s work with communities in Gwanda, Zimbabwe who do not have access to mains electricity, the starting point for young people is a whole class activity to make a national electricity grid. Pupils act as electricity pylons linking cities, towns and villages to power stations with string. The teacher then removes some of the string connections between towns and villages to simulate how some villages are not connected to the national electricity suppliers. Pupils have the opportunity to consider what life would be like for them without electricity before exploring ‘off-grid’ methods of generating electricity.
Real life science
This real-life context sets an ideal platform for relevant science investigations where pupils explore how electricity can be generated from alternate sources of energy including the use of solar cells. This also helps primary science and secondary physics teachers deliver the ‘electricity’ unit requirements within the UK’s science curriculum.
‘It’s been great teaching about electrical circuits in a real world context. It feels more meaningful for the children.’ K. MacManus, Primary Science Lead
So what’s the challenge?
Pupils learn about the varying needs and wants for electricity amongst a community living in a village in Gwanda. They include a teacher wanting lighting in her school, a nurse wanting a refrigerator to store vaccines at her clinic and family farmers wanting solar water pumps to help irrigate their crops. Their main challenge for pupils is to make recommendations on the best use of electricity to help meet the needs of the community generated from a limited supply of solar cells. To help pupils do this the education material includes access to simple spreadsheets and energy appliance cards (with information about their energy use per hour/day). The Solar Challenge can be used by teachers and schools in a number of ways, including as part of STEM lessons, as a curriculum enrichment day and for pupils to gain a CREST Award.
To support the making of electrical circuits, Practical Action have teamed up with TTS suppliers who have developed a bespoke ‘Solar Challenge Kit’ and/or the option to source solar cells.
Off-Grid! Design Competition
Building on the pupils learning and experiences of the challenge, Practical Action is running a design competition. Running until the competition deadline on 14th June 2019, pupils have the opportunity to develop their ideas for an ingenious solar-based solution to a number of scenarios/problems identified within the challenge.