In this week’s Solar Women Summer Series feature, Signe Periera, seventh grade earth science teacher at Dedham Country Day School, shares how she’s teaching her students about solar energy.

Signe began her career in education in 1997 in Cambridge, MA. Signe has taught entomology, physics, chemistry, meteorology, astronomy, geology, human biology, ecology, and environmental science. For the past nine years, she has been teaching sixth grade life science and seventh grade earth science at Dedham Country Day School in Dedham, MA.

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“To foster independent thinkers, it is important to give students, both girls and boys, a chance to discover scientific principles and apply them in ways where they can see the utility of science and its practical results.”

Solar Woman: Signe Periera

How did you start teaching about solar energy?

While working as an Environmental Scientist for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), I became involved with an organization called Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE).  Through WiSE I started working with the New York State Science Olympiad, an organization dedicated to improving science education, known for sponsoring large-scale, hands-on, science competitions for adolescents. Preparing for these competitions fueled my decision to become a teacher.  I’m passionate about teaching astronomy in ways that are meaningful to students.  What better way to engage them than getting them involved in a project as important as solar energy?

Why do you think it’s important to educate youth about the power of solar?

As the world-wide population continues to grow, it is clear that clean energy sources are vital in protecting the environment that our youth will inherit.  Solar power is a renewable and clean source of energy that is vastly underutilized. Meeting future energy needs will require exploring alternative energy sources. As students increase their understanding of alternative forms of energy, they will eventually become well-informed consumers, and perhaps even become advocates in this world-wide effort for renewable sources of energy.

What did you do to teach about solar in your classroom? Can you please describe the project?

Here at DCD, the period of time immediately following the Thanksgiving Holiday to the start of the Winter Holiday is known as “mini-term”. Students use the scientific method to design and implement their own original experiment, which is then presented at the middle school Science Expo, right before winter break. This year, the seventh grade class opted to pilot a project about passive solar energy after reading an article about how engineers are working to develop new techniques for passive heating and cooling. Students used the internet to research passive solar home designs.  They learned about the variables that go into good solar design, including home orientation relative to the rising and setting sun, home size, windows (numbers, sizes, and placement), which colors and materials absorb heat, and which materials retain heat.  Once they had completed their research, students began collecting a variety of recyclable materials for use in the construction of their model home. 

Home examples:

solar homes

Upon completion of their models, students then tested their homes’ ability to absorb and retain heat. They generated tables and recorded the rate at which the homes absorbed heat and the rate at which the homes retained heat. 

Resources – books, blogs, websites – for people interested in teaching their kids about solar?

The following websites were the most helpful in getting the students started.

Throughout mini-term, students found various websites to aid them throughout this project. We are still in the process of compiling these resources.

How are you planning to continue teaching about solar? Any other renewable energy sources?

Students really ran with this project.  They had lots of excellent questions and really got into problem-solving.  However, due to time constraints they did not get to explore this topic as in depth as they would have liked to.  There was also not enough time for the students to make adjustments to their models homes and do any retesting. However, given the strong positive response from our students, this year we plan to spend more time utilizing initial data to remodel homes and retest for improved efficiency.

Anything else we should know?

It is rare when students and teachers can rally behind a project 100%.  To foster independent thinkers, it is important to give students, both girls and boys, a chance to discover scientific principles and apply them in ways where they can see the utility of science and its practical results.


Additional Learning Resources