‘How I Spent My Summer’: Neville McFarlane

Build solar car

We continue our series on how APS teachers spent their summer. Next up: Maynard H. Jackson High math teacher Neville McFarlane, who used his Fund for Teachers grant (through the Atlanta Education Fund) to attend a photovoltaic and installation workshop in Colorado. What’s a photovoltaic and installation workshop, you ask? So did we. Here’s Mr. McFarlane’s explanation, after the jump …


The Atlanta Education Fund/Fund for Teachers grant provided me with an excellent opportunity to engage in an enriched learning experience this past summer that will promote students awareness of renewable energy as well as increase my competence as a teacher of mathematics. The grant I received allowed me to participate in a two-week workshop on renewable energy with special emphasis on photovoltaic design and installation at Solar Energy International (SEI) at Carbondale, Colo. I traveled to Carbondale on June 1, and was actively engaged in two weeks of practical/hands-on training.

The first week of training focused on renewable energy resources of solar, wind and water and how they can be applied to promote the quality of life and sustainable development throughout the world. I had the opportunity to view presentations of case studies on successful renewable energy projects at the international level, methods of effective technology transfer and the economics and financing of energy projects. The workshop also addressed how the developing world is utilizing solar energy for the production of electricity, solar cooking and heating, as well as water pumping and irrigation.

The idea of “Cooking with the Sun” by using different types of solar ovens/cookers was quite a fascinating experience. The design of the various type of solar cookers presents an excellent opportunity for me to develop lessons that my students to apply geometric and measurement concepts in a real-life situation. I had the opportunity to construct my first solar cooker and to tour a site with several types of solar cookers/ovens. In addition, I had my first solar-cooked meal of rice and beans and baked cookies!

SEImobile training unit

Another segment of our workshop examined the use of photovoltaics (PV or solar cells) for the production of electricity and the opportunity this technology have for rural electrification, especially for isolated and hard to access/remote locations. Can you imagine living “off-grid” without paying an electric bill. A number of case studies relating to the use of wind generator, hydro power and the use of biogas and energy efficiency/conservation measures was highlighted during the first week.

A major section of the workshop examined the use of energy-efficient lighting using LEDs (light-emitting diodes). I also had the opportunity to build my own LED lamp that consumes only two watts of electric power but gives an illumination of a 40-watt incandescent light bulb!

During the second week of training , I explored the impacts that our energy use has on the planet and how best to teach our youth about solutions: energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Each day we had a hands-on element that can be employed in the classroom or applied in our own homes. Use application of passive solar home design that relate to how we can utilized the thermal effects of the sun to provide cooling as well as heating for our homes was most intriguing. Our windows should be south-facing to capture the sun’s energy, and we should have ensure that our flooring material has the right thermal mass to absorb the sun’s energy during the day and releases this energy when the nights get cold, thus providing natural heating for ones comfort!

The crew-Mt Sopris view

Another major segment of the workshop addressed solar electricity using photovoltaic cells. I had the opportunity to test , design and install different circuits using solar cells, as well as visit two homes that were operating with 90 percent of their electricity being generated for solar cells. Further exploration involved conducting an energy audit of the building in which we had the training, designing a PV electric system to provide electricity to meet the need for a small family house.

The last activity involved the building of solar cars and then racing them on the tennis court! The design considerations were intimately connected with gear ratios of the motor to the hub on the wheels, along with the shape of the car chassis and the angle of inclination of the solar panel.

My goal is to develop an interdisciplinary unit on solar energy for my ninth-graders at Maynard H. Jackson High School, linking mathematics, science, social studies and language arts so that they can make real-life connections on the applications of solar energy. This unit will provide the students and the school community with a greater awareness of renewable energy technologies, create engaging/practical learning experiences that allow students to learn mathematics in a meaningful context — such a passive solar home design, solar cookers/ovens, solar cars design competition, energy audit/surveys, design and build a solar electric powered model house and a solar-powered water fountain.

To date, I have developed PowerPoint slides on the application photovoltaics systems; solar cookers; energy audits; and designing solar-powered cars. Currently, I am working on the lessons plans for the interdisciplinary units for the solar energy unit, which will be implemented in the spring semester of 2009.

Finally, I must say that the Atlanta Education Fund inspires, motivates and provides enthusiastic professional development opportunities for teachers passionate about students’ learning, community development and personal educational growth/professional enrichment. Thanks the Atlanta Education Fund and Fund For Teachers for this great summer learning experience. I have made life-long connections with more than 25 participants from across the United States; the opportunity has allowed me to become a competent, hands-on practitioner.

4 thoughts on “‘How I Spent My Summer’: Neville McFarlane

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  1. How I spent my summer is a great story. I enjoy reading Talk UP APS. It motivates me to try and do more to support the schools. Every employee has the responsibility to give a 100+ everyday. When I read the stories about our APS children, teachers, and administrators I feel proud to be a part of this district and will continue to do all I can to improve myself in order to improve the district. Keep these good stories coming; the world is looking at APS and taking notice to our greatness.

  2. Thank you for highlighting these amazing Atlanta teachers and their summer odysseys. These stories highlight the exemplary model these teachers set for FFT Fellows.

    Know another teacher that would be up for the challenge and reward of this program? Apply online at http://www.fundforteachers.org beginning October 1.

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