Arlington Public Schools’ Fifth Graders Engineer Solar Circuits

Posted Nov 03, 2022

Arlington Public Schools (APS) demonstrates leadership in sustainability in its operations and facilities, with 8 solar schools (and counting) and 7 LEED-Certified schools. Their commitment to sustainability is also integral to what students are learning in classrooms.

In November, fifth-grade students at Abingdon Elementary School got a unique opportunity to make real-world connections with the solar technology generating electricity right above their heads. Students started by examining Abingdon’s solar energy dashboard, which updates in real-time every 15 minutes. They observed patterns in daily and seasonal energy production and drew conclusions to explain fluctuations.

Meghan from Sun Tribe shows students the live readings on their schools' solar energy dashboard

Next, students took part in a Solar Circuit Challenge, assembling their own solar circuits using mini solar panels, wires, motors, lights, and buzzers. As students experimented with the solar panel’s angle and the light intensity, you could hear their excitement as they saw the motor’s fan blades speed up or heard the buzzer get louder.

Students test their solar circuits

A student prepares to build a more challenging circuit design

Special guests made the experience extra special by speaking about their roles in energy careers. Catherine Lin, APS Director of Operations, and Tanner Prime, APS Energy Manager, shared the factors they considered when evaluating solar energy for APS, including carbon footprint and utility bill savings. Kristen Keim from Generation 180, a non-profit working to advance solar energy in schools, talked about energy policy. Meghan Milo from Sun Tribe Solar gave students an introduction to solar technology and design.

APS Director of Facilities and Operations, Catherine Lin, works with a student to measure circuit voltage

APS Energy Manager, Tanner Prime, shows the class a solar panel

The possibilities for learning through solar energy are limitless. APS’s leadership, both in sustainable facilities planning and classroom STEM connections, will continue to serve as a model of best-practices to districts nationwide.

NOTE: Madison Energy Infrastructure acquired Sun Tribe Solar in April 2024. The team remains dedicated to continuing - and growing - the reach and impact of Solar Empowered Schools.

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Solar Empowered Schools’ mission is to help students shine through renewable energy education. Madison Energy Infrastructure manages Solar Empowered Schools to extend the benefits of solar energy beyond roofs and into classrooms, preparing students for STEM careers and empowering youth to actively participate in their clean energy future.