Plugging Into The Sun At The Bright School

Friday, July 11, 2014 - by Gesa Nestler ‘13 Bright School
The Bright School students safely observe the world’s energy supplier: the sun.
The Bright School students safely observe the world’s energy supplier: the sun.

Students at The Bright School are learning that with the correct components, the sun’s rays can be harnessed to power many basic needs.

Solar studies within the school’s science curriculum were enriched during the Spring with the assistance of two German engineers and technologists, Helge and Melanie Nestler (parents of Bright students Gesa, Greetja, and Beke). The National Science Teachers Association of America and the SEIA (Solar Energy Industry Association) are currently working on integrating a curriculum that focuses on solar energy and related topics, its contributions to society and the environment, and how it is produced to encourage new generations to get involved in this full-fledged and worldwide new approach to utilizing solar energy.  With the Nestler’s guidance, Bright School has embraced this developing educational opportunity and blended this branch of science into its rich and informative curriculum for current fourth and fifth graders.  

On a recent sunny day, science class students listened intently to a lesson on solar power and photovoltaic systems taught by the Nestlers.  The pair explained the structure and function of a solar panel and how it absorbs energy from the sun.

The students then engaged in multiple experiments that provided realization of the amount of manpower needed to create electricity for a single traditional light bulb. From pedaling as fast as possible on a stationary bike to illuminate a light strip to witnessing the ability of a magnifiying glass’ ability to create a flame, the students gained valuable insight into the power of the sun and the possibilities it offers.  

Students were stunned to learn that the energy needed to power the households of the world’s population could be provided by solar panels covering an area stretching from Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans, Louisiana.  According to Helge Nestler, this scenario could potentially supply enough energy to power the entire planet. 

“Solar power has been commercially available for about 60 years, but it is still a subject that few people understand,” Helge Nestler explained. “This is one reason why even today solar power continues to be a political issue and is not seen as a necessity to generate energy in a sustainable way to preserve our planet for future generations. My wife and I wanted to make it easy for students to understand the dimensions and the potential of solar power. Our vision is to see in the near future the harvesting of the sun’s energy by solar cells, where installing them on the roofs of our homes is as common as putting windows in a building. One key to reach this goal is to educate children in their young years how the technology functions in order to make wise decisions in the future regarding this important topic.”

Science teacher Kitty McMillan enthused about the lesson and its implications: “Really, I’m just a guide for the students. In my teaching, I search for notable resources and different ways to teach the students best. But what I really enjoy is finding willing experts, people who are much more knowledgeable about specific fields, who want to come in and show the students how it’s done in the real world. Having an expert in the classroom causes the students to ask questions and gain a deeper understanding.  These professionals can answer student questions because they live it every day. This exposure gives students a much broader and in-depth foundation on the topics, literally enriching learning and the curriculum and sparking enthusiasm that just might lead to future studies or even a career.” 

Bright School has taken a deciding step by embracing solar technology. Solar energy benefits the environment around us as well as our society.

 “Students enter Bright School when they are three years old, which means they will spend eight years at Bright School. In another 20 years these children will be adults, many with families, many running businesses,” said O.J. Morgan, Head of School. “This program will affect students in two ways. First, it makes them aware of new technology that exists and encourages them to consider new opportunities for the future. Second, when they are adults, they will be able to use these new ways of living in homes, in their communities, and in their work. Everything they learn here will have a direct effect on the decisions they make in the future. If they can take this knowledge and go out into the world and teach others, then we are truly making a difference.” 

 “I would like for Bright School to be a model elementary school by not only using solar energy but also in teaching the children about solar energy, how it works, and how they can use it in the future,” Mr. Morgan continues. “I would like for other schools to come to us to see how best to do it. It is going to take us a while to integrate it into our curriculum because we still need to educate ourselves on how best to use solar energy, and we have to find ways to integrate it and not only teach students about solar, but multiple kinds of energy, using math and science. Once we do that, and once our teachers have experience doing that, and once we have incorporated that into school life, having the children be knowledgeable about it, we can invite other schools, not just in the city, but also all over the nation, to come see what we do. And, as I say, I think we can be a model school by using this solar energy in a really good, exciting way, not only by teaching students but also through applying the technology so that the School can use its precious resources wisely.”

As for the students? The solar energy lessons were engaging, enlightening, and most of all, fun. One even remarked, “I might want to become a scientist who works with solar applications. It was really fun learning about solar energy, and it did trigger some new and exciting ideas.” 

The students see and feel what it takes to generate electricity with a bike versus a solar panel.
The students see and feel what it takes to generate electricity with a bike versus a solar panel.

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