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Energy expedition

Mission 1 of 3

Solar House


1 Hour

Ages 8+

Learn how technology can interact with our natural environment to power our devices and measure our impact. Students will build a solar panel and capacitor to light an LED when pressing a button.

In this mission, you will join Piperbot and Pip as they learn how Zomars store solar energy before a storm hits. You will simulate the sun with a flashlight and charge the capacitor to light the LED within the house.

View student interface at




Computer with USB port and Chrome or Edge browser
Piper Make Starter Kit
Piper Make Solar House


Learning Goals

  1. Students will learn how capacitors store energy.
  2. Students will understand how a solar panel collects energy.
  3. Students will learn about the charge and discharge of a capacitor.
  4. Students will gain knowledge about resistors, the differences between resistors, and the markings on the resistor.
  5. Students will reinforce their understanding of dividing voltage through resistors. 

Learning Activities

The following sections will contain step by step instructions for ELA, ELD and Math extensions directly related to this mission. Adjust the directions to fit your ELA, ELD and Math standards.

ELA Extension: How Can You Save Energy in Your Home?

In this exploration, students will identify sources of energy loss and ways to save energy and money to create efficiencies.  

  • Explain to students that “vampire power” electricity leakage comes from devices that use power even when turned off in the home. These devices are called “Energy Vampires” and can waste valuable energy.  
  • Quick Write Have each student do a “quick write” on electronic items in their homes that might be Energy Vampires. Make a list of your likely suspects.  
  • Think-Pair-Share Pair students together and ask them to brainstorm items in their homes suspected of being Energy Vampires. Have them create a joint list.  
  • Group Share Out. Bring the class together and have students share their lists and thoughts on vampire power as it relates to their homes. On a whiteboard or sheet of chart paper, chart student ideas and lists of Energy Vampires.  
  • Vampire Load Solutions. After students share their ideas, break them up into new groups of 3-4 and ask them to answer these questions:
    • Knowing about Vampire Power is an excellent first step, but how can you lower your energy bill and save money? 
    • What can you do to help the environment regarding energy use?  
  • List four things you can do to eliminate Energy Vampires and share them with the class. Possible responses could be: Use a power strip, unplug vampire devices when not in use, use a watt monitor to check which devices or appliances are Energy Vampires, unplug your phone, put a computer on sleep mode, unplug the coffee maker, unplug video game consoles, research the device itself and its power load, or be proactive and look into purchasing Energy Star* devices if you’re able. 
  • After students have compiled a list of ways to help save energy, play this video for the class: GHC | Four ways to rid yourself of Energy Vampires

ELD Extension:


  • The best examples of Energy Vampires are devices that can be turned on and off, usually by remote. These include televisions, desktop computers and monitors, printers, satellite or cable boxes, and video game consoles. These Energy Vampires leak electricity when they’re off because they’re in standby mode, always waiting for a signal to turn on.  
  • Some non-remote devices are also Energy Vampires. These include digital clocks, cable modems, and microwaves. Less obvious examples include electric toothbrushes, coffee makers, and, once fully charged, plugged-in devices such as cell phones, laptops, and tablets.  

Hardware Diagram

Code Diagram

Tutorial Steps



Troubleshooting Tips

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Material Library

A servo, which is short for servomotor, is a special kind of motor that is used to control something by moving it. A simple motor moved by spinning continuously. A servo turns to a specific position and it uses gears to transform the high speed of the motor into more force so it can move things more easily.

The servo is connected using three wires: one for ground, one for power, and one for a signal that tells the servo motor what position to turn to. The Pico tells the servo what position to turn to by changing the width of the pulse that it is sending out. A pulse with a shorter "ON" time will turn to one side, and a pulse with a longer "ON" time will turn to the opposite side.

The motor inside of the servo turns very fast, but it is also weak - it cannot apply very much force. The gears inside the servo convert the motor's high speed and low force into a slower speed with more force.

Career Connections

Robotics Technician: Salary $60,570/yr
Automotive Engineer: Salary $95,300/yr
Civil Engineer: Salary $88,050/yr
Industrial Designer: Salary $75,910/yr

Standards Alignment

CSK12 Framework
  • CA 3-5.AP.17. Test and debug a program to ensure it accomplishes the intendedtask.
  • CA 3-5.CS.2. Demonstrate how computer hardware and software work together as a system to accomplish tasks.
  • CA 3-5.CS.3. Determine potential solutions to solve simple hardware and software problems using common troubleshooting strategies.
Math ELA
  • Grade 3: writing applications-2.1, 2.2;
  • Written and Oral English Language Conventions - 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.7, 1.8
  • Grade 4: writing strategies-1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.10, Writing applications - 2.1
  • Grade 5: Writing strategies-1.1, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6; writing applications - 2.1
  • Grade 3: ELD.PI.A.3.1, ELD.PI.A.3.2, ELD.PI.B.3.5, ELD.PI.B.3.6, ELD.PI.C.3.10, ELD.PII.C.3.6
  • Grade 4: ELD.PI.A.4.1, ELD.PI.A.4.2, ELD.PI.B.4.5, ELD.PI.B.4.6, ELD.PI.C.4.10,ELD.PII.C.4.6
  • Grade 5: ELD.PI.A.5.1, ELD.PI.A.5.2, ELD.PI.B.5.5, ELD.PI.B.5.6, ELD.PI.C.5.10, ELD.PII.C.5.6