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Just because Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) students learn via computers doesn’t mean class can’t be hands-on.

Last week, Jenny Weatherford’s sixth grade science class built solar cars during a lesson about energy.

“We were learning about energy and energy transformations,” said Ms. Weatherford. “I knew the students had gotten the solar car kit in their materials from K12 this year and I thought that it would be a perfect activity to go along with our lesson.”

When the students heard that they were going to be making cars, they were thrilled!

“Oh my goodness, the students absolutely loved the activity!” Ms. Weatherford said. “They are still talking about it. They were so excited all week about getting to make the solar cars in class. I typically reserve Wednesdays for ‘Lab Day,’ and so Monday and Tuesday in class, they were asking all kinds of questions.”

When it was time to put the solar cars together in class, Ms. Weatherford let the students get on their webcams and share what they had built. “They did awesome!” she said.

The K12 kit included a car, a solar panel, a battery pack, and two wires. The students were able to use what they had learned in their lesson to create their very own solar-powered car.

“It was perfect for what were studying because the car can work in a variety of ways,” Ms. Weatherford explained. “It will run strictly off the battery pack, or you could hook the wires from the battery back to the car and make the car run.

“The students were also able to make the car go forward or reverse, depending on how they hooked everything up,” she added. “They also could charge the batteries with the wires hooked up to the solar panel.”

Ms. Weatherford said several of her students took their computers outside during the lesson so that they could see how the solar car would work when direct sunlight hit the solar panel.

“With this one activity, my students were able witness chemical energy, solar energy, electrical energy and mechanical energy and how they were transferring to make the solar car work,” Ms. Weatherford said.

Allison York, another teacher at TNVA, shared a photo of one student’s car on Twitter because she loved that “the pride in building something was evident” for Ms. Weatherford’s students.

Ms. York thought the activity was a great way to teach students about how energy works. “Students learn through doing,” she said. “They grasp ideas and concepts more readily when they can actually see how things work. When students are the ones who create the project, they take ownership of learning how it works.”

This project is a great example of the surprises that virtual school brings to the table – or computer screen!

“Even though our students completed this project from their own house, they did it as a group during class,” Ms. York said. “I want everyone to see that even though we are an online school, our students are able to do many of the same activities as students in a more traditional brick and mortar school.”

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