Investigating Solar Energy

Students will be introduced to solar energy. Students will understand that most of the energy we use originally came from the sun. Students will observe the transfer of solar energy to different appliances with a solar cell and investigate the effect of using different solar sources to supply energy to appliances.
1. Begin the class by asking students to respond to the following in their journal: What is solar energy?

2. Play the photovoltaic cells video clip. We recommend that you download the file ( from the Web site and play locally on your computer at double size.

3. Inform students that they will learn about solar energy.

4. Remind students that the sun is one of the main sources of energy.

5. Explain to students that the existence of nearly all life on earth (plants and animals) is possible because of solar energy. Explain how the sun is the source of energy for most of earth's processes.

6. Explain how solar energy is collected and converted into other forms of energy, the difference between active and passive solar heating, and what energy efficiency means.

7. Inform students they will use a photovoltaic cell to power a light bulb, fan, and music box. Distribute the Investigating Solar Energy handout and investigation sheet to each student.

8. Divide students into groups of 4.

9. Give 1 parallel circuit and 1 series circuit kit to each team. Review components of kits with students. Instruct students to look at the back of the solar components to view the two circuit patterns.

10. Ask students to predict the effect of using direct artificial light, sunlight, and natural room lighting to power a small bulb, fan, and music box.

11. Have student teams use a photovoltaic cell to power a small bulb, fan, and music box. Ask students the guiding question: What is the effect of using different light sources to power simple appliances?

12. Instruct students to make observations and complete their investigation sheets.

13. Have students evaluate their explanations then draw conclusions.

14. Ask student groups to share their conclusions with the class and justify them.

15. Ask students to name any other simple appliances they think might be powered using the solar cell.

16. Ask students if they have any questions about concepts covered in the lesson and respond to their questions.

17. Review the lesson concepts at the conclusion of the activity. Ensure that students understand that different appliances use different amounts of energy. Changing the wiring in a circuit can maximize the amount of energy needed to power an appliance.

Materials Needed:

Solar Energy Kits 

Wires/ photovoltaic cells/ light bulbs/ music box/ fan


Photovoltaic Cells Video Clip (QuickTime video)


(1) Investigating Solar Energy Teacher Guide (PDF / MS Word

(2) Investigating Solar Energy Handout (PDF / MS Word

(3) Investigating Solar Energy: Observations Investigation Sheet (PDF / MS Word)

Assessment Information 


Supplemental Homework Readings for Students 

Renewable Energy (PDF
Solar Energy (PDF)

Teacher Resources/Content Support 

Solar Energy - Print Version (PDF)