Editor selections by Topic and Unit

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Physical Sciences K-8: Conservation of Energy Units

Understanding the interconnectedness of the concepts of conservation of energy, momentum and angular momentum underpins the basis for much of physics. Units are not listed in a prescribed order.

  Teaching About Energy (10)

Lesson Plans:

This is a curricular unit for elementary grades 3-5 on the topic of energy.  It includes nine lesson plans and activities to introduce students to a range of energy types such as solar, thermal, wind, and electrical. Activities are presented in the context of engineering, allowing teachers to easily integrate the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: 9-10 Days

Exemplary curriculum unit to introduce energy as a physics concept in middle school. In this age bracket, students typically confuse energy forms and energy sources and think of "energy" as a fuel-like quantity that can be used up. This unit will help build a solid foundation to understand energy transfer, storage of energy, energy flow through systems, and the interactions that underlie energy transformation. Investigations are done at daily lab stations that promote inquiry. Resource is completely turn-key: teacher and student guides, background information, assessments, hand-outs, and more.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grades 6-8
Duration: Five Class Periods

Activities:

This student activity is designed to explore the concept of work and gravitational potential energy through the system of a roller coaster.  Includes detailed directions, elicitation questions, example data sheets, and assessments. It is part of the workshop manual on Energy, developed by the PTRA, Physics Teacher Resource Agents, and supported by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 7-9
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

This simulation-based lesson was developed by a middle school science teacher to help students visualize how energy is conserved in a simple pendulum (a child swinging on a swing). Students can drag the swing to different heights, then activate the motion. As the swing moves in periodic motion, energy bar graphs are shown in real-time.....letting students see the changing levels of kinetic and potential energy. Highly recommended by editors. Includes full lesson plan and printable student guide. Easily adaptable for high school.

Item Type: Simulation-based Lesson
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: One Class Period

One of the best ways for students to visualize Conservation of Energy is to create an energy pie chart or bar graph.  This cost-free web page allows them to select from one of five graph types:  bar, pie, line, area, or X/Y.  They can customize the patterns, colors, grids, and label choices, then print the final product. Editor's Note: Try letting students create their own energy graphs after exploring the Pendulum Energy Model (above).

Item Type: Digital Tool
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy directly to electrical energy, resulting in greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions.  This online report, written for non-scientists, is an excellent reference for teachers planning a unit on clean energy or alternative fuels.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: General Audiences

One of the best websites we've found for exploring different sources of energy and the advantages/disadvantages of each. Sections include: fossil fuels, solar, wind and geothermal energy, hydroelectric power, nuclear, and biomass. Don't miss the sections on tidal energy and ocean wave energy! Each section provides video clips, images, and diagrams to help kids see how the processes work.

Item Type: Multimedia Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

Content Support For Teachers:

The concepts of work, power, and Conservation of Energy are nicely tied together in this interactive tutorial. It provides excellent content support for K-8 science teachers.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

Student Tutorials:

This five-part tutorial helps users analyze motion from the perspective of Work and Energy.  Explore potential energy, kinetic energy, and total mechanical energy with the help of descriptive text, sample problems with solutions, force diagrams, and links to related animations. Resource is appropriate for middle school teachers and for high school physics courses.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

This free 56-page "Infobook" gives an excellent overview of energy sources, with special focus on the transformations necessary to convert energy into usable fuels for consumption. It takes a look at biomass, fossil fuels, hydropower, geothermal, solar, wind, and nuclear energy -- in a context of environmental impacts and climate change. Resource does not talk down to kids, but will help them understand the difference between energy forms and energy sources.

Item Type: Digital Textbook
Level: Grades 6-8

  What is Energy? (7)

Lesson Plans:

This is a unit of instruction for Grades 3-5 on Simple Machines.  It contains excellent background information on the principles behind the lever arm, the screw, simple and compound pulleys, and the gear.  Try teaming it with the computer simulations in Edheads (below).

Item Type: Teaching Module
Level: Grades 3-5

Activities:

This is a good simulation to complement a lesson on work and energy.  As students move objects of varying mass up an incline, they can adjust the angle of the ramp, friction, and applied force.  Can be modified to meet curriculum of grades 5-12.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 5-12

This page features animations of carts traveling at constant speed on three inclines of equal distance but varying slopes.  Which path requires the most energy?

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

This website contains sets of unique and entertaining animations for children designed to promote understanding of simple and compound machines.  Kids learn as they interactively explore everyday machines found in kitchens, bathrooms, and tool sheds.

Item Type: Interactive Animation
Level: Grades 4-8

References and Collections:

It can be hard for students to understand the difference between energy sources and energy forms. This tutorial from the U.S. Energy Information Administration defines and gives examples of renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, energy transfer, and forms of energy (with emphasis on kinetic and potential forms). It is simple, but packs punch with its easy-to-follow diagrams, tables, and images.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 5-9

Content Support For Teachers:

This site has ideas and content support for teachers planning a unit on energy.  It gives examples of topics that teachers could incorporate into their lesson plans, and provides a wide array of links to digital energy resources.

Item Type: Bibliography/Index

Student Tutorials:

This is a readable and well-organized tutorial for secondary physical science students to gain understanding of what energy is and how energy is converted from one form to another. Topics range from batteries and generators to full chapters on seven sources of renewable energy.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: Grades 8-12

  Energy Forms and Sources (14)

Lesson Plans:

This short lesson helps children build a base of understanding about energy and how it is transformed.  The are required to think like consumers as they probe input/output of battery-operated devices, appliances, televisions, and electric lights. Includes student guide sheet.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades K-2
Duration: One Class Period

This site from the U.S. Energy Information Administration provides a large set of lesson plans for teaching about energy. Lessons are organized in four categories: primary (30), elementary (25), intermediate (22), and secondary (15 lessons). Topics include forms of energy, fossil fuels, geothermal, solar, nuclear, wind, U.S. energy consumption, and more.

Item Type: Lesson Plans
Level: K-12

CF (compact fluorescent) light bulbs use 1/3 the energy and last far longer than incandescent bulbs. The reason: in an incandescent bulb, about 90% of the energy escapes as heat to the surrounding environment. This lesson asks kids to form a hypothesis, then use temperature sensors to discover why the CFL bulb is a greener way to light your house.

Item Type: Investigation
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

A very high-quality cross-curricular unit for middle school that offers 12 hands-on activities for exploring hydropower and the conversion of moving water to electrical energy. It's an especially timely package because it meets objectives in engineering design, physics, earth systems, language arts, and math. You can purchase all the materials from the NEED project, or they can be purchased directly from hardware stores and science supply houses. Don't worry about prep time -- the package includes detailed lesson plans, illustrated lab procedures, rubric, pre and post-tests, background information for kids, worksheets, and graphics for classroom projection.

Item Type: Curriculum Unit
Level: Grades 6-8
Duration: 8-13 Class Periods

Activities:

The sun is the ultimate renewable energy source. This page provides step-by-step directions for constructing a solar oven using simple, easily-obtained materials. It includes a pattern for building the oven, detailed background information, and construction plans for student use.

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 6-10

This resource gives step-by-step instructions for building a vertical axis wind turbine in secondary classrooms.  The 17-page construction plans may be freely downloaded and are organized for first-time builders.  A printable lesson plan is provided, as well as comprehensive background information on wind energy.

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 6-12

This resource gives step-by-step instructions for building a water-powered electric generator from plastic spoons.  The model closely resembles real micro-hydro designs, and can produce enough electricity to light a small light bulb.  Detailed background information and links to animated tours of hydroelectric power plants are included.

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 6-12

This virtual tour begins as water from a reservoir flows through a large pipe at the bottom of a dam and acts to power a giant turbine.  Students can see how energy is transformed from mechanical to electrical by the excitation of electrons within magnets inside the turbine shaft.   This activity would be great teamed with the project above on building a water-powered generator.

Item Type: Interactive Animation
Level: Grades 6-12

References and Collections:

For the teacher looking for an immersion experience in green energy for grades 6-12, this resource offers detailed labs with set-up instructions for constructing a wind turbine, solar oven, water-powered electric generator, and bio-gas generator.  Extensive content support is integrated throughout.

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 6-12

A fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy directly to electrical energy, resulting in greater fuel efficiency and fewer emissions.  This online report, written for non-scientists, is a great reference for teachers planning a unit on clean energy or alternative fuels.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: General Audiences

This website contains nine sets of curriculum materials on renewable energy sources, organized into units of instruction for Grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.   Topics include High Energy Hydrogen, Solar Matters, and Alternative Fuels.

Item Type: Curriculum
Level: Grades K-12

Content Support For Teachers:

This site from the U.S. Energy Information Administration provides a wide array of tutorials, background information, lesson plans, games, and activities for teaching about energy. The section on Energy Sources is especially well-developed. Accompanying lessons are organized in four levels: primary, elementary, intermediate, and secondary.

Item Type: Curriculum Support
Level: K-12

Student Tutorials:

This is a good model for students to interactively explore how masses and springs relate to potential energy and Hooke's Law. They can adjust the stiffness of the spring, the hanging mass, damping (friction) and gravitational constant. Energy charts are provided to analyze the changing potential and kinetic energy of each spring.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

One of the best websites we've found for exploring different sources of energy and the advantages/disadvantages of each. Sections include: fossil fuels, solar, wind and geothermal energy, hydroelectric power, nuclear, and biomass. Don't miss the sections on tidal energy and ocean wave energy! Each section provides video clips, images, and diagrams to help kids see how the processes work.

Item Type: Multimedia Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

  Conservation of Energy (7)

Lesson Plans:

Explore energy transfer in this easy-to-setup activity.  Place a ping-pong ball on top of a racquetball and drop them together.  Upon impact, some of the energy of the racquetball is transferred to the smaller ball. Background information, printable data sheets, and assessments are also provided.

Item Type: Inquiry-Based Activity
Level: Grades 7-12

This 8-day instructional unit for middle school integrates engineering practice into a study of the energy of motion. Through investigations of waterwheels, roller coasters, bouncing balls, and a pendulum, students get a solid introduction to energy transformation in a mechanical system. The unit also introduces static and kinetic friction, drag, elastic/inelastic collision, and students learn to calculate frictional force. Don't have time to do the full unit? Lessons can be pulled out individually.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grades 6-8
Duration: 8-10 Class Periods

Activities:

Students explore conservation of energy by building ramps, jumps, and tracks for a skateboarder.  The relationship of kinetic and potential energy becomes clear through energy vs. time and position charts.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

One of the best ways for students to visualize Conservation of Energy is to create an energy pie chart or bar graph.  This cost-free web page allows them to select from one of five graph types:  bar, pie, line, area, or X/Y.  They can customize the patterns, colors, grids, and label choices, then print the final product.

Item Type: Digital Tool
Level: Grades 5-12

This simulation allows the student to design a simple roller coaster, and then evaluates the roller coaster based on physics principles.  It rates each student's roller coaster design for safety and fun, with detailed explanations of the strength or failing of each design. This simulation could work well as a starting point for studying roller coaster motion. The resource below is a perfect follow-up.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

Roller coasters offer an inherently interesting way to study energy transformation. This scaffolded activity lets students choose from 5 track configurations or create their own design, then observe the resulting motion. Energy bar graphs are simultaneously displayed as the roller coaster runs its course. Students can adjust the initial speed of the car, add friction, or switch to stepped motion to see the exact points at which kinetic and potential energy reach maximum and minimum levels. Includes lesson plan and student guide.

Item Type: Computer Model
Level: Grades 6-12

Student Tutorials:

In this five-part tutorial you will explore potential energy, kinetic energy, and total mechanical energy with the help of sample problems and solutions, force diagrams, and links to related animations. This tutorial is appropriate for secondary science teachers and for students of high school physics.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

  Energy Transformation (8)

Lesson Plans:

This short lesson helps children build a base of understanding about energy and how it is transformed.  The are required to think like consumers as they probe input/output of battery-operated devices, appliances, televisions, and electric lights.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades K-2
Duration: One Class Period

This mini-unit will appeal to all learning styles. It features the best set of graphic displays we've seen for breaking down how energy is transformed in real-life systems. The custom graphics are free for download and MUCH easier to digest than Sankey diagrams. Lesson includes "Energy Flow Card" game, where students act out energy transformations by connecting the cards correctly.

Item Type: Teaching Module
Level: Grades 6-8
Duration: 2-3 Class Periods

A very high-quality cross-curricular unit for middle school that offers 12 hands-on activities for exploring hydropower and the conversion of moving water to electrical energy. It's an especially timely package because it meets objectives in engineering design, physics, earth systems, language arts, and math. You can purchase all the materials from the NEED project, or they can be purchased directly from hardware stores and science supply houses. Don't worry about prep time -- the package includes detailed lesson plans, illustrated lab procedures, rubric, pre and post-tests, background information for kids, worksheets, and graphics for classroom projection

Item Type: Curriculum Unit
Level: Grades 6-8
Duration: 8-13 Class Periods

Activities:

This virtual tour begins as water from a reservoir flows through a large pipe at the bottom of a dam and acts to power a giant turbine.  Students can see two types of energy transformation:  1) Gravitational Potential Energy transforms to Mechanical Energy when rushing water turns the turbine, and 2) Mechanical Energy is transformed to Electrical Energy by the excitation of electrons within magnets in the turbine shaft.

Item Type: Interactive Animation
Level: Grades 6-12

This simple, yet thought-provoking simulation helps students to "see" the flow of energy through a real-life system -- from start to finish. They can choose sunlight, steam, flowing water, or mechanical energy to power their systems. Very effective way to visualize energy transformation and a great way to introduce the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 4-9
Duration: 30 minutes

Content Support For Teachers:

For teachers wanting some background information on energy transformation: this tutorial features an animated roller coaster with moving bar graphs that depict kinetic and potential energy as the car descends and climbs.   It is a great example of a system in which TME (Total Mechanical Energy) remains the same during the course of the motion.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

This animation features a downhill skier and four energy bar graphs. Watch the transformation of energy from potential to kinetic during the descent. The end of the run is unpacked snow.... the skier loses total mechanical energy (TME) to the dissipative force of friction.

Item Type: Animated Tutorial
Level: Grades 6-12

The motion of a pendulum is a classic example of mechanical energy conservation.  In this tutorial, energy bar graphs depict the changing ratios of kinetic-to-potential energy as the pendulum swings. This resource provides great content support for the "Pendulum Energy Model", found above in Teaching About Energy.

Item Type: Animated Tutorial
Level: Grades 6-12

  Global Issues Related to Energy Resources (3)

Activities:

This versatile simulation can be adapted for upper elementary, middle school, and high school. In its simplest form, kids can investigate greenhouse gases that were present in the last Ice Age, in the year 1750, at the present time, and at a point in the future. High school students can adjust levels of 4 atmospheric gases, then "shoot" infrared and visible photons into the atmosphere. How does the balance of gas levels influence photon absorption?

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 5-12

Power up a city -- choosing from both green and nonrenewable energy sources.  But wait: if you choose all clean energy sources, you go over budget and lose the game. If you choose the cheapest sources, you smog up your city and still lose.  What is the right balance, given viable scenarios and realistic budget constraints?

Item Type: Computer Game
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

References and Collections:

Confusing energy forms and energy sources is a documented roadblock to future understanding of energy as a physics concept. Often, students enter high school believing that "fuel" is synonymous with "energy". This free mini-textbook provides an excellent overview of energy sources, with special focus on the transformations necessary to convert energy into usable fuels for consumption. An abundance of reproducible graphics make this a compelling resource for teachers & learners.

Item Type: Digital Textbook
Level: Grades 6-8

  Renewable Energy Sources (7)

Lesson Plans:

The sun is the ultimate renewable energy source. This page provides step-by-step directions for constructing a solar oven that really cooks --  using simple, easily-obtained materials. Includes pattern for building the oven, detailed background information, and construction plans for student use.

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 6-10
Duration: 3-4 Class Periods

Looking for ways to integrate engineering design into the science classroom? This is a 3-day unit for Grades 5-8 that explores passive solar design as students work on teams to build a solar structure with four walls, four windows, two doors, and a roof. They must consider ventilation, conduction, materials choices, and orientation of the structure for optimal heat absorption. After construction, students test their solar houses to determine how well they regulate temperature.

Item Type: Learning Module
Level: Grades 5-9
Duration: 3 Class Periods

A very high-quality cross-curricular unit for middle school that offers 12 hands-on activities for exploring hydropower and the conversion of moving water to electrical energy. It's an especially timely package because it meets objectives in engineering design, physics, earth systems, language arts, and math. You can purchase all the materials from the NEED project, or they can be purchased directly from hardware stores and science supply houses. Don't worry about prep time -- the package includes detailed lesson plans, illustrated lab procedures, rubric, pre and post-tests, background information for kids, worksheets, and graphics for classroom projection

Item Type: Curriculum Unit
Level: Grades 6-8
Duration: 8-13 Class Periods

Activities:

Thought-provoking video takes a realistic view of the promise and challenge of solar power. It explores how solar energy is being currently used to power homes and businesses, and presents research into new methods for implementing solar technology. Free download.

Item Type: Video
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: 50 minutes

This versatile simulation can be adapted for upper elementary, middle school, and high school. In its simplest form, kids can investigate greenhouse gases that were present in the last Ice Age, in the year 1750, at the present time, and at a point in the future. High school students can adjust levels of 4 atmospheric gases, then "shoot" infrared and visible photons into the atmosphere. How does the balance of gas levels influence photon absorption?

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

Multimedia activity combines a hands-on lab with digital temperature graphing. Kids investigate heat transfer as they design and build a simple solar oven, then test its effectiveness by using a $40 temperature sensing device. Plug the device into a laptop, and the graph is automatically generated by data captured from the solar oven as it heats up from the sun's warmth.

Item Type: Multimedia Lab
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: 2-3 class periods

Content Support For Teachers:

One of the best websites we've found for exploring different sources of energy and the advantages/disadvantages of each. Sections include: fossil fuels, solar, wind and geothermal energy, hydroelectric power, nuclear, and biomass. Don't miss the sections on tidal energy and ocean wave energy! Each section provides video clips, images, and diagrams to help kids see how the processes work.

Item Type: Multimedia Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

  Special Collections on Energy Education (1)

References and Collections:

The NEED Project is a national initiative to bring innovative curriculum materials in energy education to teachers and learners from the primary grades through college. At the core of the project's work are the portfolios of 120+ comprehensive curriculum guides on forms of energy, renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy, electricity, and fuel efficiency. Don't miss the interactive maps and Question Bank for customizing your assessments.

Item Type: Collection
Level: Grades K-12

  Teaching Energy in the Elementary Grades (11)

Lesson Plans:

Fun and thought-provoking experiment that uses inexpensive UV color-changing beads to explore unseen energy produced by the sun. Developed by NASA, the lesson is presented in the context of the Messenger mission to Mercury:  how can a spacecraft be built to withstand the proximity to Mercury without melting? Includes worksheets, data table, warm-up & reflection questions, and detailed set-up procedures. Don't miss the pattern for building a model of the Messenger spacecraft!

Item Type: Investigation
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: 2 Class Periods

This short lesson helps children build a base of understanding about energy and how it is transformed.  The are required to think like consumers as they probe input/output of battery-operated devices, appliances, televisions, and electric lights. Includes student guide sheet.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades K-2
Duration: One Class Period

This 4-day unit for grades K-2 uses engaging activities to show the relationship between light, heat, and shadows, helping young children build a conceptual base to understand light energy.  Included are printable student activity sheets and science content support for teachers.

Item Type: Teaching Module
Level: Grades K-2
Duration: Four Class Periods

One of the best resources we've found for building a foundation to understand energy conversion. Kids conduct investigations with live plants, UV detection beads, light sensitive paper, a radiometer, glow toys, and solar balloons. If time permits, finish up with an engineering project to design & build a working solar oven. Completely turn-key. Purchase a pre-assembled kit from NEED for $200 or buy your own materials -- less than $100 will serve a class of 30.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grades 1-3
Duration: 5-7 Class Periods

Activities:

Confusing energy forms with energy sources is a documented roadblock to future understanding of the topic as a science discipline. This free infobook for Grades 2-4 provides materials for teaching an entire unit that effectively builds a solid foundation. It first introduces forms of energy (thermal, motion, wave, chemical), then looks at energy sources (fossil fuels, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric). Very well sequenced for the early grades.

Item Type: Instructional Unit
Level: Grades 2-4
Duration: 2-4 Class Periods

This free booklet accompanies the NEED Primary Science of Energy curriculum (above). You'll find an array of multisensory games, songs, graphics, and seat activities to support the instructional unit on energy, plus assessment materials with answer keys.

Item Type: Student Workbook
Level: Grades 2-4

CF (compact fluorescent) light bulbs use 1/3 the energy and last far longer than incandescent bulbs. The reason: in an incandescent bulb, about 90% of the energy escapes as heat to the surrounding environment. This lesson asks kids to form a hypothesis, then use temperature sensors to discover why the CFL bulb is a greener way to light your house.

Item Type: Investigation
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

Multimedia activity combines a hands-on lab with digital temperature graphing. Kids investigate heat transfer as they design and build a simple solar oven, then test its effectiveness by using a $40 temperature sensing device. Plug the device into a laptop, and the graph is automatically generated by data captured from the solar oven as it heats up from the sun's warmth.

Item Type: Multimedia Lab
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: Two Class Periods

This lesson lays a foundation for kids to understand energy transfer as they explore how and why heat is produced from things that give off light, from machines, and from friction. At these grade levels, students are not expected to develop formal concepts of energy, but they can investigate how heat spreads from one place to another.  Completely turn-key.

Item Type: Investigation
Level: Grades 3-5
Duration: One Class Period

Reinforce learning about renewable and nonrenewable energy sources with nine carnival-like games. Kids will play Energy Bingo, Pictionary, matching & memory games, and solve math problems to earn Energy Bucks. It's completely turn-key: just print and mount on cardboard. The games were created to supplement the NEED Project's Primary Science of Energy curriculum (see above).

Item Type: Hands-on Activity Set
Level: Grades 2-5
Duration: 90 minutes

This simple, yet thought-provoking simulation helps students to "see" the flow of energy through a real-life system -- from start to finish. They can choose sunlight, steam, flowing water, or mechanical energy to power their systems. Very effective way to visualize energy transformation and a great way to introduce the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 4-9
Duration: 30 minutes