Solar Water Heater

TeachEngineering: authors Landon B. Gennetten, Lauren Cooper, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise W. Carlson
Type Category
Instructional Materials Assessment Materials
Assessment Item , Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This resource has students construct a solar water heater. The resource includes background information, instructions for constructing and testing the solar water heater designs, as well as pre and post-lab questions to aid the teacher with assessment.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-PS3-3 Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on both qualitative and quantitative evaluations of devices. Examples of devices could include Rube Goldberg devices, wind turbines, solar cells, solar ovens, and generators. Examples of constraints could include use of renewable energy forms and efficiency.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment for quantitative evaluations is limited to total output for a given input. Assessment is limited to devices constructed with materials provided to students.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This resource fully addresses the Performance Expectation. The main procedure does not require the students to refine their device, but in the Post Activity Assessment section (Engineering Re-Design Queries), the resource suggests having students refine their solar water heater designs using the comparison of test results from their own solar heater and those from other groups following questions in Part 4 of the student worksheet. As long as the Engineering Re-Design procedure is employed, then the resource fully meets the Performance Expectation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The resource could more fully meet the Practice if the instructor had a class discussion prior to the start of the activity about criteria that may be important and leads the students to prioritize them. Likewise, after the activity, the instructor should refer to the Post Activity Assessment section (Engineering Re-Design Queries), and discuss tradeoff considerations in light of the groups discussing their designs and how well they worked.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The activity is fully entrenched in using light energy to produce thermal energy, and the resource contains background information on thermal energy and specific heat, so the instructor can focus on using the Pre and Post Activity Assessment questions to gauge the students’ understanding of thermal energy and how light energy is converted to thermal energy.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The resource fully addresses the Core Idea of using engineering to create and use green energy sources. An instructor can use the last two questions on the student worksheet to drive a class discussion about the advantages of solar energy over other forms as well as how using solar energy to heat water for your home helps the environment and reduces a consumer’s energy bill.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The instructor might want to have a class discussion to emphasize how energy from the sun flows to earth, is absorbed by the copper tubing, which in turn is then absorbed by the water and raises its temperature.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The instructor could have students do a deeper analysis of the other designs shared at the start of the lesson (in the "Before the Activity" section) to discuss the possible need to modify these other design examples to make them more efficient. A similar discussion could be held afterward, and then one final opportunity to refine and improve the devices based on that discussion could be implemented. The discussions should focus on what features and modifications produced improvements in the system.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson embraces the vision of NGSS as it engages students in the three dimensions to design a solution to a problem. The Disciplinary Core Idea of a global need for cheap, green energy is the motivation for the lesson, and it aligns to the Practice of Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions by having students design, test, and refine a solar water heater, and it embraces the Cross Cutting Concept of Patterns because the students analyze the performance of the designs and should look for patterns in terms of what worked well, and what didn't.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource is very complete in that it provides background information about specific heat for both the instructor and students, materials for class discussions, and lab worksheets. It provides opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas and respond to peer and teacher feedback orally to support student’s three-dimensional learning.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The engineering nature of this resource allows the instructor to monitor student progress as they construct their devices, and the included lab worksheet allows for assessment after the activity is completed. The resource provides lesson plans (Pre-Activity Assessment) for the instructor to use in leading class discussions prior to the construction of the devices which will help monitor student understanding of heat capacity and thermal conductivity.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not use technology.