RET Program at QESST Evolves New Solar Curricula with the Alhambra Elementary School District

Achievement date: 

Participants in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) are designing new solar curricula that are now widely impacting students, teachers, and parents in Phoenix, Arizona, as well as other locations. The QESST website showcases the RET-developed lessons for use by teachers around the country. Lessons by RET participants Jill Murphy and Mia De La Rosa have been accepted for inclusion at the American Society for Engineering Education Conference program, which invites attendees from more than 12,000 universities, corporations, government agencies, and professional associations.


Over 14,000 elementary school students in the Alhambra School District can benefit from the emerging educational opportunities in photovoltaics (PV); between 2014 and 2016 the program reached nine campuses throughout the district. Middle school students who are first-generation college-bound students are invited with their parents to participate in a university-level experience.

The RET teachers are also creating communities around their interest in solar power issues by participating in cross-campus events with each other and with the greater QESST community, which includes faulty, students, and staff at Arizona State University (ASU) in partnership with the California Institute of Technology (CIT), the University of Delaware (UD), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of New Mexico (UNM).


During the summer of 2016, QESST hosted three Alhambra teachers in the RET program. These teachers, spanning 4th through 8th grades, each developed and field-tested PV curricula for their classrooms. Jill Murphy, a 4th grade teacher at Alhambra Traditional, provided her grade-level team members professional development in PV curriculum and enlisted them in implementing lessons. Jill delivered the culminating lesson to 120 students, aided by QESST scholars. Two district-level STEM coaches also attended.

QESST also offered monthly Saturday opportunities for middle school students and teachers to engage in STEM subjects, allowing Murphy another opportunity to share one of the lessons she created. The four STEM Saturdays were designed to sequentially build students’ knowledge of PV. These activities prepared students to travel to the Solar Power Laboratory to see the technologies in action and to act as student-leader experts. The Barcelona Middle School students were invited to lead a simulated solar cell assembly line activity, sharing their knowledge with the public during Night of the Open Door at ASU.

 Additionally, QESST outreach coordinator Tiffany Rowlands worked alongside 6th grade teacher Elliott Hall to implement a two-week solar-themed unit with 160 students. Mr. Hall’s students, along with students from the STEM Saturdays and parents were invited to ASU to teach the public what they had learned and to showcase the solar amusement park rides, which were designed in the program.