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Age Range: 11-14
Duration: 60 or more mins
  • D&T
  • Physics

Photovoltaic cells - Investigating circuits

Manufacturing a simple circuit and integrating it into a solar-powered product

In this solar panel STEM project, students will investigate the photovoltaic effect by manufacturing a simple circuit and integrating it into a product, in this case a version of the popular jitterbug project.

The jitterbug is a device that moves due to vibrations caused by an off-centred mass on a motor's driveshaft, can be powered by sunlight when connected to a photovoltaic (PV) cell.

Learners will gain insight into the works of sustainable technology by learning about photovoltaic cells (these solar-powered cells are a primary component in renewable energy solutions).

This is one of a set of resources developed to aid the class teaching of the secondary national curriculum, particularly KS3. It is part of the ‘Let there be light’ scheme of work, which involves investigating how photovoltaic cells are used and then using this technology to make a series of electronic circuits of increasing complexity. This could form the basis of a Design and Make Assignment (DMA) project in design and technology (DT), with cross-curricular links with Science.

Activity: Manufacturing a simple circuit and integrating it into a solar-powered product

Students will be divided into teams of 2-4. Each team will receive the component parts for the jitterbug, a circuit diagram, and a picture of a finished example. They will then proceed to assemble their jitterbug according to the provided instructions. Once completed, students will use a light source to charge up their capacitor and then observe their finished product in action! This solar panel STEM project provides a practical, hands-on way to understand the working of photovoltaic cells and their integration into a simple product.

Download our activity overview for a detailed lesson plan for teaching students about solar powered circuits.

The engineering context

Understanding how to build a simple circuit is one of the fundamental skills in engineering. It provides the basis for understanding electricity and electronics, which are integral to many areas of engineering - from electrical and electronic engineering to computer engineering and even mechanical and civil engineering.

Furthermore, photovoltaic cells, or solar cells, convert sunlight directly into electricity. This technology plays a key role in renewable energy solutions, which are becoming increasingly important due to the global push towards sustainable living. Understanding how photovoltaic cells work gives students insights into this technology, preparing them for future innovations in the field.

Suggested learning outcomes

Upon completion of this lesson, students should have a comprehensive understanding of how photovoltaic cells work and how they can be integrated into a circuit. They will gain hands-on experience in manufacturing a simple circuit and integrating it into a product. This activity not only deepens their understanding of the photovoltaic effect but also exposes them to the practical side of electronics and product design.

Download our activity sheet and other teaching resources

The activity sheet includes teachers’ notes, useful web links, and links (where appropriate) to the national curriculum in each of the four devolved nations; England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

All activity sheets and supporting resources are free to download (including the video), and all the documents are fully editable, so you can tailor them to your class’s and your schools’ needs.

You can download our classroom lesson plan below.

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