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Archive January 2017

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Library of Congress Blog Series Jan 2017

Getting kids interested in science can be challenging. The Library of Congress has many online resources available to K-12 educators and their students including lesson plans, reading lists, and more that each relate to a specific topic in science. You can find these resources by visiting This month we are featuring the list entitled, “Snow: Flakes and Crystals.” The list is found at
No two snowflakes are alike. We say this all the time, but is it true? Of the literally billions and billions of snowflakes on the Earth at any given time, can no two anywhere at all ever be alike? It’s difficult to imagine the number of snow crystals present on Earth right now. Wilson A. Bentley, one of the first known photographers of snowflakes, was a man fascinated by snow, weather, and the water cycle. After looking at many of his photographs, you may come to the same conclusion that no two snowflakes are alike.
A book that will help you do just that is Snowflakes in Photographs, by W. A. Bentley. A more recent compilation of Bentley’s famous snowflake photographs, the book is page after page of black and white images of snowflake crystals and some images of dew drops, frost, and other dihydrogen monoxide representations. Looking at these images may lead you to wonder about the man so devoted to snow that he was given the nickname, Snowflake Bentley.  72 pages including introduction; published by Dover Publications, ISBN-13 978-0-486-41253-5
A good biography of Bentley is The Snowflake Man, by Duncan C. Blanchard. It’s very detailed, going into depth about his family’s history and origins in New England, and includes a small set of photographs of Bentley’s childhood home, some of his family members, and a few snow crystal photographs. This book is definitely an adult read, and is particularly interesting if you are like early American history or genealogy. 237 pages, published by The McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, ISBN 0-939923-71-8
For younger readers, a great choice would be Caldecott Medal winner, Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Mary Azarian.  The book gives children highlights of Bentley’s childhood and early interest in all things frozen and illustrates well the sacrifice made by Bentley’s parents to buy an expensive camera and microscope to fuel Bentley’s obsession. Interjected among the biographical prose are additional facts that older or more curious readers will want to know, such as an explanation of the magnification capabilities of the camera and microscope. 32 pages, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-395-86162-4
And finally, there’s a beautifully illustrated book about the object of Bentley’s passion, the snowflake. The Snowflake: A Water Cycle Story, by Neil Waldman, follows a fictitious droplet of water from snow crystal in the sky, through its multiple forms and reservoirs on Earth, and back to crystal in the sky. Laid out as a seasonal or calendar progression, each page represents one month in the droplet’s cycle on Earth. The illustrations look and give the feeling of the Northern Hemisphere season associated with the months listed.  For example, in March, the droplet is part of a mountain stream flowing down through a crack in the Earth beneath a frozen pond. The colors are warm above, representing the warming days, and cool and blue beneath, illustrating the still-frozen ground. 32 pages, published by Millbrook Press, ISBN-13 978-0761323471.
Whether you want more snow, or less, whether you love it or hate it, snow is a part of our life as residents of North America. It has been present in every US state and Canadian province at one time or another and is here to stay for the time being (sorry, warm weather lovers). The list of resources published by the Library of Congress can help you and your students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the intricacies of snowflakes.  Now, who has some hot chocolate?
Want to learn how to make a six-sided snowflake? Check out a step by step instruction sheet here!

How to Become a Solar Panel Installer

As companies become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and look towards incorporating sustainability into their business practice and operations, it opens many doors into various sustainability careers. Vera Marie Reed discusses the career of a solar panel technician in her blog below. 

With the perceived vulnerability of the traditional power grid and the increasing cost of heating and cooling homes, alternative power sources are becoming more and more popular.
The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has, since it came in force in 2006, given the sector stability as well as growth. In fact, the industry, over the last 10 years, has achieved a compound yearly growth rate of just south of 60%. Also, consider that close to 209,000 Americans are employed in the solar sector, which more than doubles the number reported in 2010. That figure, meanwhile, is projected to double to north of 420,000 workers by 2020.
One of the jobs in the sector that is experiencing plenty of growth is that of solar panel installer. Read on for a look at the industry, the job duties, and the education and skill requirements.
Solar Industry
The U.S. solar market is set to grow by 119% this year, says GTM Research in its latest U.S. Solar Market Insight Report 2015 Year in Review, published in conjunction with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). Elsewhere, SEIA says that the expenses involved in installing solar has declined in excess of 70% over the last decade, which has allowed the sector to expand into further markets and to install thousands of systems across the country.
The SEIA adds that California has traditionally accounted for the bulk of the solar market in the U.S. -- with a market share of 44% last year -- but that other states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Texas are starting to experience more growth -- not only from residential customers, but also from commercial customers. The organization further notes that falling costs, more competition, better consumer awareness, and a wider array of financing options to help people and companies get solar panels installed are helping to fuel growth.
What all of this means is that there are opportunities in the solar panels market as well as in other eco-friendly niches that offer greener options.
Day to Day Responsibilities
Solar panel installers are tasked with installing panels onto the roofs of homes, condominiums, and commercial properties. These professionals might have to install either photovoltaic (PV) solar panels that turn the sun's rays into electricity or solar thermal panels that store the sun's rays so that they can use used for heating applications.
Problem solving skills are needed because installers must consider the best location for the panels -- which necessitates figuring out if the surface selected has, firstly, enough space for the required number of panels and, secondly, enough durability to accommodate the weight of the panels.
When installing PV solar panels, the installer needs to connect the panels to the right wires and then connect the wires properly to an inverter box, which will change the energy produced by the solar cells into what is called an alternating current of electricity that people can use for their power requirements. The wiring portion of the job must be completed by a licensed electrician, so installers that have such a designation will be ahead of the game.
While a post-secondary degree and certification aren’t necessarily required as far as starting a career in solar panel installation, people who want to get into the industry will increase their odds of success if they seek out relevant education and certification. JobMonkey notes that the hourly wage can be in the $15 to $20 range. However, people who take a relevant course and pursue certification can make more than this range.
Having a construction, electrician, or mechanics background will definitely prove useful for those desiring to get into solar panel installation. In fact, JobMonkey notes that those with construction skills, specifically in the roofing segment, will have a bit of an advantage since the job often requires installing panels on rooftops. JobMonkey adds that candidates who have an electrical work degree will also open up career advancement opportunities for themselves.
Even though some previous experience in construction or other trades can be beneficial, much of what the job of solar panel installer entails can be learned on the job -- and some of those skills are relatively easy to learn. For instance, those in the industry need to know how to use hand tools and power tools, have basic math skills, have some electrical knowledge, and be capable of lifting at least 30 pounds and 40 pounds -- the weight of many solar panel brands.

As the alternative energy industry experiences ongoing growth, there will undoubtedly be job opportunities for those prepared to take advantage of them. The position of solar panel installer is but one of the many job types available, and the demand for such services means that people considering a career as a solar power installer can potentially benefit from some job security.
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"Green Innovations and Eco Friendly Businesses." Earn My Degree. N.p., 2016. Web.
"Raising standards. Promoting confidence." NABCEP | North American Board of Certified
Energy Practitioners. N.p., n.d. Web. Dec. 2016.
"Solar Industry Facts and Figures." SEIA. N.p., n.d.
"Solar Panel Installation Jobs - Pay, Job Outlook, and Solar Job Guide." JobMonkey. N.p., n.d.
Web. Dec. 2016.
"US Solar Market Set to Grow 119% in 2016, Installations to Reach 16 GW." SEIA. N.p., March
9 2016.

Vera Marie Reed is a freelance writer living in Glendale, California. This mother of two specializes in education and parenting content. When she’s not delivering expert advice, you can find her reading, writing, arts, going to museums, and doing craft projects with her children.
Thank you Vera for contributing your article! You may also learn about other various careers in the energy industry on the NEED website at