Educators Robin Hogan, Donna Cackowski, and Heather Winkler of the Thomas Sharp Elementary School in Collingswood (Camden County), along with parent liaison John Henry, were awarded a $9,300 Leonard Koch Grant for Mathematics from the NJEA Frederick L. Hipp Foundation for Excellence in Education to implement The Great Solar Challenge.
Fifth-grade students begin by studying sustainable energy sources and environmental systems in order to design, build, and test solar-powered model cars using scientific and mathematical concepts. Community members and students also construct a greenhouse. Minority scientific professionals serve as mentors, advisors, and educators, while parents assist in the installation of the solar panels and greenhouse. The solar power generated by these panels is used to operate the air circulation system of the greenhouse. Basil seeds are grown in the greenhouse to demonstrate sustainability and another use of solar energy. In the future, students sell vegetables, herbs, and flowers grown in the greenhouse.
Teachers gather information regarding sustainable solar energy at a local university and a national science agency that has expertise in earth systems science. Team members receive instruction in earth system science to better instruct and inspire students, as well as develop inquiry and experiential-based curriculum for fifth-grade students.
The students conduct research and produce an impact analysis of solar energy on the local community and its environment. Based on the impact analysis, students make a presentation to the local community government and school board in hopes of affecting change in energy decisions made by these agencies.
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