Hands-on project teaches pupils about solar energy

Alternative energy is more than a popular buzzword for pupils at Sego Middle School.


Because of a $20,000 solar panel provided by Georgia Power, Sego is one of fewer than a dozen schools in the state where pupils are learning hands-on lessons about capturing light from the sun and turning it into energy.

"It's opened a whole world to them they didn't know existed," Assistant Principal Sonya Bailey said.

The solar panel was erected in one of Sego's courtyards in the spring and became fully functional for this school year, but the school already has reaped some of the benefits from the program, Mrs. Bailey said.

Pupils monitor the school's solar panel through a live Web site, where they can view its power production and watch it fluctuate depending on the time of day and weather conditions.

They also can download data from the Web site and use them in their math classes to determine which day produced the most energy and perform other calculations, Mrs. Bailey said.

"We have a lot of goals for it," she said, including turning Sego into a field trip for other schools. There are endless possibilities in how to use the program, she added.

Along with installing the solar panel, Georgia Power developed a math and science curriculum for sixth- and seventh-graders that is aligned to the state's new curriculum.

Georgia Power Regional Vice President Walter Dukes hopes the solar panel and the partnership with the school develop an appreciation for alternative energy and perhaps encourage some of the pupils to consider a career in the energy industry.

The small panel produces about 1,400 watts each day depending on the amount of sunlight, and it essentially is a prototype of research being conducted at Georgia Power's corporate headquarters in Atlanta, Mr. Dukes said. It would take many more solar panels than the one at Sego to produce the same amount of power as a Plant Vogtle, a nuclear power plant, but the program gives a glimpse into alternative energy possibilities.

Pupils already are more engaged in class work, and that engagement will hopefully have a lasting effect, sparking an interest in careers such as engineering, Mrs. Bailey said. They've learned practical knowledge, measuring the heat of light and dark aluminum cans to determine which gets hotter and how a solar panel can best absorb solar energy.

"Everything we learn, we learn by doing," she said.

Georgia Power trained Sego's teachers and is following up with other classroom projects, Mrs. Bailey said. For instance, the power company recently dissected a solar-powered calculator to show the similarities it has with the solar panel in the pupils' backyard.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.


Interested in monitoring Sego Middle's solar panel? Visit www.FatSpaniel.com, click on "live sites" and enter the school's name in the search box.