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Solar-Powered Cars for Junior Solar Sprints

Grade Range
5th-8th
Group Size
1-4 students
Active Time
3 hours
Total Time
3 hours
Area of Science
Energy & Power
Mechanical Engineering
Key Concepts
Solar power, engineering design, friction, gear ratio
Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a solar-powered car
  • Iteratively test and improve the design

Overview

Help your students learn about solar energy, physical forces, and other science topics with this hands-on engineering experience. This lesson plan will show you how to get your classroom started building solar-powered cars that your students can enter, if desired, in regional Junior Solar Sprint competitions. No previous experience with electronics or building things is necessary. Get the dates and location for your regional competition here.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • 3-5-ETS1-3. Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
  • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
5th grade
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations. Plan and conduct an investigation collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence, using fair tests in which variables are controlled and the number of trials considered.

6th–8th grade
Developing and Using Models. Develop a model to generate data to test ideas about designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs.
5th grade
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.

6th–8th grade
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it.

ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution. The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.
5th grade
Systems and System Models. A system is a group of related parts that make up a whole and can carry out functions its individual parts cannot.

6th–8th grade
Structure and Function. Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Materials


Materials to build a solar powered car
  • Junior Solar Sprint Deluxe Kit from Solar Made. This kit is good for beginners because it does not require soldering and includes axles and gears to make the transmission (one of the more difficult parts to build from scratch). For other kit options for more advanced students, see the Variations section.
  • Chassis: corrugated cardboard, balsa wood, Styrofoam®, milk/juice cartons, cardboard tubes, etc.
  • Other assorted office/craft supplies: drinking straws, paper clips, rubber bands, paper/plastic cups, pipe cleaners, etc.
  • Tape and glue
  • Scissors
  • Small Phillips head screwdrivers
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Pencil and paper for sketching design ideas

You will also need a flat, paved, sunny area for your students to test their cars.

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Grade Range
5th-8th
Group Size
1-4 students
Active Time
3 hours
Total Time
3 hours
Area of Science
Energy & Power
Mechanical Engineering
Key Concepts
Solar power, engineering design, friction, gear ratio
Mini Grants Available!
  • Mini grants cover: cost of Solar Sprint kits, registration fees, and a travel stipend to get eligible students to the state competition.
  • Open to US teachers of grades 5-8 at Title 1 schools.
  • Apply now to get a grant for this school year.
  • Get Details

Learning Objectives
  • Design and build a solar-powered car
  • Iteratively test and improve the design

Teacher Tool Box

Mini Grants Available!
  • Mini grants cover: cost of Solar Sprint kits, registration fees, and a travel stipend to get eligible students to the state competition.
  • Open to US teachers of grades 5-8 at Title 1 schools.
  • Apply now to get a grant for this school year.
  • Get Details