High School Teachers, Students Learn Changing Tech & Solar Science

photo of dr. Pan chemistry high school summer students
Dr. Shanlin Pan (far right) works with high school chemistry students & teachers on alternative energy projects.

As energy generation alternatives gain traction, Alabama educators are working to keep up with this changing technology in their science curricula. Dr. Shanlin Pan’s six-week training course this summer, for Alabama teachers and students, aims at making the sometimes complex scientific concepts underpinning solar power more accessible to the state’s students.

During the program, the teachers received research experience while working with University of Alabama chemistry researchers, developed their own modules to explain aspects of solar energy generation to students, and worked to integrate these with their own lesson plans.

“I have seen some new lessons, but few modules are developed in the state of Alabama to emphasize the real chemistry concepts behind renewable energy systems such as solar cells,” Pan said. “I am sure there will be more once the general public becomes aware of the nation’s urgent need for alternatives and the desperate need for next generation scientists and engineers in the STEM field.”

Participants in this year’s program came from across the state, including high schools in Tuscaloosa County and as far away as Autaugaville. These high school educators are Shanel Lightfoot-Brown from Hillcrest High School, Jennifer Reynolds from Brookwood High School, and Felecia Briggins from the Hale County College & Career Academy. Two current high school students also participated in the program, Mackenzie Rymond of Paul W. Bryant High School and Jada Bibb of Autaugaville High School.

As the program was primarily concerned with solar technology, most of the concepts covered as a part of it were related to properties of light, energy storage, the mechanics of solar collection, plant analogues to solar power, and how light is created through both chemical and electric means. The high school teachers each created their own module for use in the classroom that touched on one of these topics, including concepts for an aluminum-air battery and ways of producing chemical luminescence.

“These modules emphasize chemistry concepts — instead of simply performing a magic show — in order to help teachers and students understand microscopic chemistry processes,” Pan said.

This program is the first of a four-year series funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation that emphasizes getting solar technology into grade school classrooms. Any Alabama high school teachers or students who are interested in this technology and its applications in the classroom are encouraged to apply for next year’s summer program here.