Chesterfield County STEAM Students Build Solar-Powered Whirligigs

Cover Image for Chesterfield County STEAM Students Build Solar-Powered Whirligigs

Is there anything better, or more memorable, than the joy of discovery? Of seeing something that you built with your own hands actually work? Students in Chesterfield County got a taste of that excitement while building solar-powered whirligigs.

Students test their solar whirligig

Enon Elementary School is one of seven Chesterfield County Schools with a newly installed rooftop solar energy array. Last week, students from Monica Sheehan’s 5th Grade STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) classes experimented with the same solar photovoltaic technology that powers their school – but at a hand-held scale. They worked in groups to connect motors, wires, and a mini solar panel to power their whirligigs (decorative spinning objects).

A motor, wires, and mini solar panel are used to power the whirligig

The activity challenged students to make cross-curricular connections as they built. In science, the students have been learning about electricity, circuits, forms of energy, and renewable vs. non-renewable energy sources. In STEAM class, they have been learning about the engineering design process and best practices for group collaboration.

After constructing and decorating their whirligigs inside, each class walked outside to test their creations. In those first moments in the sun, against the backdrop of the solar array on their school, students erupted with squeals and smiles -- the unmistakable signals of the magical feeling of discovery.

Students test their solar creations outside against the backdrop of larger solar panels

Chesterfield County’s commitment to solar has not only expanded educational opportunities, but has also grown its portfolio of on-site clean energy generation. The County’s 2.7 MWdc of solar generation capacity is forecasted to offset over 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years (the equivalent impact of taking 13,700 cars off the road for a year). In addition to the schools, other County municipal buildings will soon be solar-powered, including the Public Safety Training Center, Beulah Parks and Recreation Center, the Vehicle Maintenance Facility, and the Midlothian Public Library. Subsequent waves of solar buildings are under consideration.

The student-created whirligs were displayed during the "Flip the Switch" ceremony celebrating Chesterfield County's solar leadership.

Students learn about their school's new solar energy array

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.