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Solar Vehicles and Wind Energy Teacher's Guides Review by Debra Brinkman

Pitsco Education
915 E. Jefferson (P.O. Box 1708)
Pittsburg, KS 66762

I am always on the lookout for materials that will make science more hands-on and practical for my children, preferably in the form of something easy to implement. Pitsco Education has many resources that fit the bill. This review will focus on an Alternative Energy course I have used with my teenagers, using their Solar Vehicles and Wind Energy materials as the primary coursework.

The Teacher’s Guides are available as free downloads, which is wonderful. I could look over the projects and requirements to make decisions about just what materials I truly need to use this with my children. For purposes of this review, Pitsco provided me with everything, including physical copies of the Teacher’s Guides.

I absolutely love the Teacher’s Guides. These are well-organized and well-thought-out guides that truly do take you through teaching the science. The guides are around eighty pages each and are chock full. There are quite a few pages that are irrelevant for the average homeschooler such as long lists of standards.

I found that I prefer the pdf version of the guide, as that includes clickable links to the many worksheets, resource pages, and instruction pages. You can type the links into your browser to access these materials if you are using the physical book. Of course, everything is also included in the Teacher’s Guide, so you can also use the hard copy without needing to go online. That was not obvious to me in our first book.

The guides have a similar set-up. There is basic information in the front, including an overview of how to construct the main product (either the Ray Catcher Solar Vehicle or the Eco-Wind Generator). There are also troubleshooting tips, which were particularly important.

Once the main item is assembled and working, there are two levels of lesson plans available. Each set of lesson plans includes three activities and an engineering challenge. There are also pre-tests and post-tests, suggestions for additional lessons, additional resources, and copies of the instructions for the students.

The lessons in a section build on each other, leading the student through the information they will need to complete the engineering challenge. These are not quick activities, either. The shortest one has them measuring wind speeds with an anemometer at three different distances and three fan speeds, and is expected to take 45-90 minutes. Engineering challenges are likely to be multi-day activities.

Each of these projects has a DVD available. These are well-produced resources that give a nice visual demonstration of putting the main project together. These were a huge help to me, as I cannot always figure out exactly what I am to do by looking at a diagram. Watching a video makes it much clearer for me.

Several other resources are needed to fully use the lessons in the Teacher’s Guides and suggested in the DVD. A few of them are basic items like graph paper or graphite. Some are a bit more technical, but still common items like a light meter or a multimeter.

Assembly of the three different kits – the Ray Catcher Solar Vehicle, the Eco-Wind Generator, and the Anemometer – is straightforward. We ran into a couple of frustrations with the Solar Vehicle, but nothing too difficult.

Once the kits are assembled, they need to be tested. This took some time. The Solar Vehicle required some troubleshooting, and we ended up pulling the alligator clips off entirely as something was just not conducting a current at all. It is a little more work to connect and disconnect the wires now, but the car runs.

The very first activity involves artificial and natural light and determining which is a better source. The Teacher’s Guide walks the instructor through what makes a good experiment and how to lead the students through the process. We never could get the vehicle to move at all with artificial light, however, so it was quite easy to hypothesize that natural light would be better.

The remaining activities could be completed with just natural light, so we just had to be sure the sun was shining when we wanted to work with the solar vehicle. In Colorado, we average over 300 days of sunshine a year, though, so that was not a hardship.

These kits, along with the Teacher’s Guide and additional materials make a great, hands-on science activity. The Guide recommends additional resources, some of which we were able to check out from our library, and thus this really can be the basis of a ½ credit science course for high school

I would recommend having more than one Eco-Wind Generator to make full use of the lessons.

-Product review by Debra Brinkman, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2019