Solar shower helps students develop problem-solving skills

By on June 26, 2013
Grade 11 physics students in the class of Arthur Bakx at Osoyoos Secondary School developed and built a solar-heated shower. Bakx (left) was demonstrating the shower at the recent OSS Storm the Wall event. Tyler Loura takes a shower while Jayson Lynch looks on. Bakx said the water reached a temperature of around 45 C that day. The water is hosed into the panel and heated directly with no electricity involved. (Photo by Richard McGuire, Osoyoos Times)

Grade 11 physics students in the class of Arthur Bakx at Osoyoos Secondary School developed and built a solar-heated shower. Bakx (left) was demonstrating the shower at the recent OSS Storm the Wall event. Tyler Loura takes a shower while Jayson Lynch looks on. Bakx said the water reached a temperature of around 45 C that day. The water is hosed into the panel and heated directly with no electricity involved. (Photo by Richard McGuire, Osoyoos Times)

When students showered off after the recent Storm the Wall event, many of them used a solar-powered shower built as a Grade 11 physics project.

Osoyoos Secondary School physics teacher Arthur Bakx said the project emerged from a discussion with the parent advisory council (PAC) about how to make science more interesting.

It ties in with a change in B.C. curricula to put emphasis on project-based learning in which students develop skills in problem solving and teamwork by taking on complex and real projects.

He also saw that the Osoyoos Sustainable Community Plan supports development of solar energy and he figured it would be a good fit for a school project.

From there, the idea for a solar-powered shower developed.

The shower, with its frame of plywood and two-by-fours on wheels, isn’t elegant looking, but Bakx said the water temperature that warm sunny day reached 45 C.

“For some of the kids that were seeking refreshment, it was actually a little on the warm side,” he said.

Nonetheless, by passing water from a hose through a solar panel, its temperature was raised by about 25 degrees.

Bakx said that by presenting the students with an open-ended problem to solve, one with no single solution, it was very different from learning from a textbook where there is a problem and only one acceptable solution.

The project presented numerous problems to be solved, and Bakx told his students that he didn’t have the answers and was trying to figure out solutions too.

Students applied principles of physics as they calculated the angle on which the panel needed to be set taking into account the latitude of Osoyoos and the movement of the sun.

They learned about heat transfer, energy transformation and how light energy is converted into heat. They dealt with the mechanics of attaching the panel to the platform, connecting water, measuring water flow and solving plumbing issues.

When a grant for the project was rejected, the students also had a lesson in budgeting and coming up with cost-effective solutions.

Bakx notes the solar panel used, which was contributed by Swiss Solar Tech in Summerland, heats the water directly. It was not a photovoltaic panel that produces electricity as an intermediate step.

“What we learned along the way is those systems are actually most economically feasible at the moment,” he said. “They have the shortest payback time.”

The students tried to develop a system to recover heat by recycling water, but it failed to work when the pump wasn’t powerful enough. Nor did they store heated water in tanks, which might have been more efficient, although would have been more complex.

There were 13 Physics 11 students who did most of the construction, but a number of Grade 12 physics and chemistry students also worked on a testing phase. They performed a number of calculations required for the project.

The students also visited Burrowing Owl Winery where they looked at a professional solar-water heating system involving multiple panels and tanks.

“They got to see both our model system, which was a more simplified version, and a professional system to see how this is applied,” said Bakx. “It was powerful I think for them to see how well it worked for the Burrowing Owl.”

Students enjoyed the project, and many of them found their own niche, with some of them taking leadership roles, Bakx said.

He recalls how one student came up with an idea for allowing the shower to be wheeled on an axle, but Bakx initially suggested the solution wasn’t the best. The student was discouraged.

Later, however, he was vindicated when the students discussed the problem with staff at Home Hardware, another sponsor, and they confirmed the student’s idea would indeed work.

“It was great for the student to see how he was vindicated,” said Bakx. “His original idea was going to work, and since that happened, he was a lot more confident in bringing up ideas. That was really good to see. He turned out to be one of the leaders in the designing part.”

Another student had recently undergone back surgery and she was uncomfortable doing the physical work. Instead, she took up the role of creating a blog about the project. She took photos and wrote about the project as it progressed.

Bakx also notes a few of the girls were initially not interested at all in the project, but as it progressed they were doing drilling and getting their hands dirty.

Originally one of the ideas was to develop a solar shower that could be used by orchard workers.

“We’re not quite there yet,” said Bakx. “Maybe next year.”

Bakx, who was only at OSS to cover for another teacher on leave, won’t be back next year, but will be at Okanagan College instead.

He’s hopeful though that his successor will take up the project where he and his students left off.

The blog for the project can be viewed at: ossphysics11.weebly.com

BY RICHARD McGUIRE

Osoyoos Times

 

 

 

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