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Watts Up at middle school
Platteville Middle School holds solar energy day
PMS Powered by the sun
... then built solar-powered cars.

Platteville Middle School fourth-graders spent early release day May 13 capturing energy from the sun. 

The students rotated between three “energy” sessions throughout the morning. The activities were designed to make the students more energy aware.

The first session was in the science lab. They measured the watts used by electric light bulbs, cell phone chargers, microwaves, hair curlers, television sets, and fans. The students used a device called “Watts Up” to measure how much electricity each appliance used. They were surprised that an LED light bulb used so little power compared to a traditional light bulb. They were also amazed to learn that many appliances quietly use power even when they are not turned on.

The second session focused on the sun’s heat energy. Each student made a “finger warmer” out of a paper plate and aluminum foil. The plate was covered with foil and a hole was cut in the middle. One more cut, and it was formed into a cone shape. By pointing the device toward the sun, the students felt a warm spot on their finger at the focal point where the sun’s heat was concentrated. This simple experiment convinced them that even on a cold and windy day the sun’s heat can be gathered and used.

In the last session pairs of students assembled solar cars and tested them on the blacktop. With a little direction from the teachers, the students “engineered” their cars so they could run on the power of the sun. In addition to the solar cars, there were many solar powered “toys” that the students used to conduct solar experiments. One of the students asked, “Where are the brakes for the car?” They soon discovered that to stop their car all they had to do was block the sunlight and it stopped. Unblocking the sun sent the car speeding on its way.

The overall theme of the day was “Energy Does Work.” We all use many sources of energy every day. It will be important for their future to use energy well and develop new ways to power their world. The students saw first-hand that the sun is another source of energy that they can put to work.