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What's Up in the Environment?
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Class Projects   Solar Cars


Students are probably aware that energy sources and their impact on the environment are important issues. To cut down on our dependency on fossil fuels, scientists have turned to renewable sources of energy. Solar energy has long been lauded as the possible solution to the energy and pollution crisis.

In this project, students investigate the amount of pollution produced by cars and how solar energy might alleviate this problem. By creating their own car students will investigate how solar energy can be used, and learn about some of the challenges involved with building solar powered cars.

This project incorporates elements of the scientific method.

Grade level
Middle school, but can be adapted to suit other grades

Time allotment
Up to 1 semester

Subject matter
Main focus on environmental science, with language arts and social studies connections

Learning objectives
Students will:
  • Research the causes and effects of air pollution.

  • Investigate the specific effects of carbon dioxide on the environment.

  • Learn the benefits of using solar power.

  • Learn about renewable energy technologies and their environmental benefits.

  • Gain an understanding of the scientific method and use elements of it to conduct steps of the project.

  • Build a model solar car to see solar energy in action.

  • Use technology to research and synthesize information.
  • North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE)
    Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning
    Strand 1-Questioning and Analysis Skills (Guidelines A, C, E, F, G); Strand 2.1-The Earth as a Physical System (C); Strand 2.3-Humans and Their Societies (A, C, D, E); Strand 2.4-Environment and Society (A, C, D, E); Strand 3.1-Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues (A, B, C); Strand 3.2-Decision-Making and Citizenship Skills (A, B); Strand 4-Personal and Civic Responsibility (B).

  • Technology Foundation Standards for Students
    Standard 1: Basic operations and concepts; Standard 2: Social, ethical, and human issues; Standard 3: Technology productivity tools; Standard 4: Technology communications tools; Standard 5: Technology research tools; Standard 6: Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools.

Students will research, build, and modify a solar-powered car, documenting what worked or failed along the way. After reaching a final design, students may enter their solar car in a local competition or possibly the competition held by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Junior Solar Sprint program. Their findings will be captured in a presentation such as a scrapbook, PowerPoint file, or Web site.

Computer resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above
  • Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • IBM-compatible computer: (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • RealPlayer plug-in. Download for free at
Materials needed
  • Access to the Internet on at least one computer (optional)
  • WHAT'S UP IN THE ENVIRONMENT video (optional)
  • Excel (optional)
  • PowerPoint (optional)
  • Solar car panel and engine (see Web sites below for cheap sources of kits) and other household items to make a model car
Online resources

Teacher tool Web sites

Bookmark these Web sites for students

  • EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality
    This site gives information about air pollution from vehicular and non-road sources. It also has information about reducing air pollution.

  • Environmental Protection Agency: Clean Solar Energy
    This list of resources for global energy includes information about air pollution and solar energy.

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
    This site provides an overview of many different kinds of renewable energy sources, including solar energy.

  • Natural Resources Defense Council
    The Natural Resources Defense Council works to hold the government and other agencies to strict pollution standards and encourages the enforcement of environmentally friendly technologies.

  • Explorer's Club: Ask EPA
    If students have an environmental question, they can visit this Web site--sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency--and have their questions answered within 15 days.

  • The U.S. Department of Energy's National Junior Solar Sprint Web Site
    This program offers students the opportunity to create and construct model solar powered cars and enter them in competitions.

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