Scientists have learned to harness the Sun, transforming its energy to meet our energy needs.
Long, long ago in the mystical land of Aotearoa, Māui gave much thought to the Sun. The people of the land worked long and hard but never seemed to get what they wanted done. They came to the realisation they needed more hours of sunlight. They needed the Sun for its light and heat to help with them with their crops, their fishing, their housing, food preparation and their living. Māui concluded one thing: we need to harness the Sun!
The student activity Māui and the Sun uses the Māori legend to introduce the concept of harnessing the Sun as solar energy.
How we use this energy
The Sun produces huge amounts of energy. Some of this energy is radiated to the Earth and is essential for life on Earth. It provides all living things with food, and it warms the Earth.
Scientists have learned that the Sun’s energy is transformed to different forms of energy on Earth (such as food energy and heat energy). Scientists like Associate Professor Ashton Partridge have discovered that they can transform some of this energy themselves. Ashton works with photovoltaics – the solar cells that power road signs, lighting and more. Ashton’s research is moving beyond having a few photovoltaic panels on the roof to the roof itself becoming photovoltaic.
Solar energy and how we use it is explained in the articles Solar energy, Using solar energy and Solar cars.
Take up the challenge
Barbara Ryan developed the content after teaching solar energy to several primary classes. Barbara’s students loved learning about photovoltaics and had great discussions about what they thought might be happening.
Barbara wants teachers and their students to understand the big science idea that energy from the Sun is transformed into other useful forms of energy for us here on Earth. This diagram shows how the energy concepts fit together.
Students explore the transformation to heat energy through the hands-on activities Using heat energy, Exploring solar power and Making a solar oven. Additional teacher resources include Alternative conceptions about energy and Barbara’s unit plan.
I have used these activities and know they work. You just need good weather and an understanding of the science involved – take the time to read the science articles. The science can be as deep as you want to go – giving scope to keen teachers and gifted and talented students to go further afield and learn more about the workings of semiconductors at molecular levels.Barbara Ryan