Back to Blog
STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Solar-Powered Mini House

Sunny days are great for play and for learning! So why not head outside, find a spot in the shade and try this fun STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activity?

Let’s explore the power of clean energy by repurposing a shoebox to design a solar-powered mini house!


Materials Needed

  • Aluminum foil
  • Clay or small toys
  • Copy paper
  • Crayons, colored pencils or markers
  • Glue or tape
  • Shoebox or other cardboard box
  • Solar panel and LED (if available/accessible)


Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Explore the power of the sun by doing an online search about solar energy and solar panels. You can discover how light from the sun can be converted into electrical energy using solar panels.
  2. Brainstorm ideas to create a prototype, or model, of a solar house.
  3. Sketch details for the inside and outside of your solar house. What objects would use solar power?
  4. Use a box (like a shoebox) to make a prototype of your solar house.
  5. Add details to illustrate objects that can be powered by solar electricity. You can make prototype elements out of paper or clay, or use small toys.
  6. Create a prototype solar panel for your home’s exterior by cutting out a cardboard rectangle and covering it with aluminum foil — or you can use a working mini solar panel! a. If you use a working solar panel and LED, connect the negative wire of the solar panel (usually black) to the shorter, negative leg of the LED and the positive wire (usually red) to the longer, positive leg of the LED. (Hint: To remember which LED leg is which, remember that positivity gets you farther!)
  7. Install the solar panel (or several panels) on top of your mini house. a. If you use a working mini solar panel, connect it to an LED and place the panel on top of your house. Be sure to poke a hole through your box, so the LED can shine through. b. Remember to test the solar panel in the sun, to see your LED light up inside the box.
  8. Give family members or friends a tour of your solar-powered mini house!


What Are We Discovering?

The sun's energy can be used to generate electricity in two ways — through heat and light.

Solar thermal power plants use specialized solar panels that capture and absorb heat from the sun and transfer it to pipes containing water. The pipes transport the hot water to a tank where the water is converted to steam. The steam spins a turbine that generates electricity.

Solar cells, which are the individual parts of solar panels, are made up of semiconductors that have a "photoelectric effect." This means they absorb light energy and then release electrons. When these electrons are captured, they form an electric current that can be used as a source of electricity.

National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Mária Telkes was a biophysicist and engineer who invented a way to capture and store solar energy. Solar energy is considered renewable energy since it only relies on sunlight to create electricity. Many companies and businesses continue to find new and innovative ways to use solar energy to generate electricity for homes, businesses and cars, and even on the International Space Station.

How might you harness the power of solar energy to create a renewable future?


Looking for Even More STEM Fun? Check Out Camp Invention!

If your child enjoys STEM activities, they will love Camp Invention®, NIHF’s nationwide K-6 STEM summer camp! To learn more about this year’s brand-new program and to reserve your spot today, we invite you to visit our website.

Related Articles