Renewable energy generators powering electric model houses

As part of our Year 5 students’ unit of inquiry around energy, we wanted to find a way to integrate the learning they do around electricity and circuits with the other areas they study focussing on renewable energy.

In the previous year, the students had used some of the standard school-style batteries, bulbs and switches to make a simple lighting circuit so this was an area the teachers were already comfortable with. I figured that we could change this up to use more modern equipment like LEDs and LiPo batteries quite easily. If we were using LiPo batteries then it would be possible for the students to charge them up separate to the house and we could try to do this using some sort of renewable energy generator they make.

An initial brief I drew up for the planning meeting with the Year 5 teachers looked like this:

Once everyone was happy with the plan we ordered lots of inexpensive components and electronics stuff through taobao and aliexpress. This was great and all arrived quickly, much cheaper than the usual school-style stuff.

The first task for the students was to learn a little about circuits as well as experimenting with the different pieces of equipment. The focus was narrowed to solar energy, wind power and a hand crank.

The students used Makey Makeys and LED strips to do some circuit experiments first. These were Makey Makey activities using the 5v output on the back, not the usual computer connected Makey Makey activities (except challenge 6). Below are the challenges they did and a quick video:



Next the students began to experiment with the wind turbines (and water), solar panels and hand cranks to see if they could get them to light a simple LED. These worked really well and all students managed to get them lit with all the different generators. See video below:



Students chose one of these to use for their generator based on their thoughts of how much electricity it was generating (brightness of the LED) and the ease of getting continual energy from that source. The school is on a very windy hill and it is particularly sunny at the moment, so all options were good. To be able to charge the LiPo batteries the students would need to cut the USB connector off the chargers and connect them to their chosen renewable source. They built them into a frame made from various materials, most chose wood. See the video below of them making their generators:



Their generators had easy access to the connector for the LiPo battery so they could charge it when needed. This same connector was also used when they started designing their circuits for the house / apartment model. This way they could generate power, store it in the battery and then use it to power the house.

Here below you can see the students starting to design their circuits and fit them into their models. They used single LEDs, strips of LEDs cut from a roll and motors for fans.


The final steps were to get everything working well inside the house model and add any needed switches. The switches we bought from aliexpress were too tiny for the crocodile clip wires so the students simply made their own from split-pins and paperclips.



Overall everything went fantastically well. A couple of points for us to think about next year if we do the same project will be to get some small sockets for the LEDs to clips into (the crocodile clips were bulky), consider having the students solder the circuits, and trying to add in a simple chemical battery (lemon juice, etc) to the options for the students.

It’s definitely been one of my favourite projects with the students this year, they learned so much more (and understood it) than last year. If you need any more info please do get in touch.