Grade preK-4 Unit, Lesson 1 (for grades 2-4): Sensing Energy (PDF, 144 KB)
Students detect the unseen energy in UV light coming from the Sun, discuss why such light is harmful, and experimentally determine how we might protect ourselves.
Activity: Using ‘UV beads’, which sense ultraviolet light by changing color, students detect UV light coming from the Sun. Students first test a number of light sources, such as fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, but find that it is the Sun that produces an obvious color change. A class discussion explores key concepts, including: forms of light that cannot be seen, that all light contains energy, and that the energy in ultraviolet light from the Sun poses a danger to us. Students then use the UV beads to develop methods to block UV light, and afford us protection.
Grade 5-8 Unit, Lesson 1: Sensing the Invisible—The Herschel Experiment (PDF, 430 KB)
Students reproduce William Herschel’s experiment of 1800 and find out that there is radiation other than visible light arriving from the Sun—in this case, they discover the presence of infrared radiation in sunlight. Students learn that since planets emit most of their light as infrared and not as visible light, infrared is an important tool in studying planets. Students also discuss current uses of infrared radiation and learn that it is both very beneficial and a major concern for the MESSENGER mission to Mercury.
Activity: The students will create a device in which sunlight will pass through a prism and produce a spectrum of light on the bottom of a cardboard box. Using a series of thermometers, the students will measure temperatures at various locations within, and outside of, the spectrum. By doing so, the students discover the existence of radiation beyond the spectrum of visible light.
Grade 9-12 Unit, Lesson 1: Star Power! Discovering the Power of Sunlight (PDF, 728 KB)
Students estimate the energy output of the Sun using a simple device and discover how much power sunlight provides to Earth. They also estimate what the effect closer to the Sun—at the distance of Mercury—might be. Sunlight and the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum are the main tools with which we study objects in the Solar System.
Activity: Students will measure the temperature change in a bottle of water as it is exposed to sunlight. Using this data and other parameters of the experiment, they calculate the solar constant, which is the amount of energy the Earth receives from the Sun per square meter per second.