It may have looked like a bunch of half-open pizza boxes on the ground,
but what was happening in the County Office of Education’s central quad
may end up sparking scientific inquiry among countless local students.
It was actually a Solar Education Workshop, put on by the highly
respected Solar Schoolhouse organization, and teachers from 10 local
school districts were in attendance.
“Motivated teachers are always looking for relevant connections to real
life that match their standards-based instruction,” said Nancy Taylor,
science coordinator at the County Office of Education. “What could be
better than harnessing both teachers’ innovation and the sun’s energy
for the combined effort of high-quality instruction?”
The half-open pizza boxes were actually “solar cookers,” black-bottomed,
newspaper-lined boxes, with aluminum foil on the inside of the lids,
which were propped open with wooden shish-ka-bob skewers. With the lids
lined up to catch direct sunrays, and plastic enclosing the container
portion, temperatures in the boxes climbed immediately, reaching 200
Nearby, a larger “solar harvester” panel was also angled directly at the
sun, connected to a battery pack that could run a radio, a
refrigerator, or any number of other electric appliances. Taylor said
the “harvester” is loaned out to schools for classroom lessons.
Participating school districts included San Diego Unified, Lemon Grove,
Escondido Elementary, Sweetwater Union High, La Mesa-Spring Valley,
Vista Unified, Mountain Empire Unified, Bonsall Union, Hemet Unified,and
La Jolla Country Day.
“In the fourth grade, the physical science standards center around
electricity and magnetism,” Taylor said. “And solar energy technologies
are a real-time example of electrical energy. We see homes and
businesses all around us that are transferring to greater energy
efficiencies. If we start with today’s students, we can change
tomorrow’s energy efficiencies.”
The teachers participating in the workshop were certainly energized. “Oh
my gosh, students love this,” said Lynn Howard, an enrichment teacher
at Encanto Elementary School in San Diego Unified School District.
“Students wanted to follow current events in our real world, so this is
perfect. We’ve designed alternative energy blueprints. They’re designing
their own homes using alternative energy and all sustainable
Tapping into that student interest, Howard and Taylor said that solar
events may be added to both the Elementary Science Field Day and the
Middle School Science Olympiad. Both are lively academic competitions
that draw students from throughout San Diego County.
Taylor said another Solar Education Workshop would be offered next spring. And in the meantime, interested teachers can go to http://www.solarschoolhouse.org for immediate ideas.