Hands-on Activity: Energy in Our Lives Carousel

Contributed by: Office of Educational Partnerships, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY

Three photos: (left) Parents and two children look out the windows of their van. (right) five young students and a teacher use three laptop computers at a table. (bottom) Two kids stand at the base of a tall wind turbine in a wind farm, with more three-paddle turbines in the background.
Energy is everywhere in our lives.
Copyright © (left) 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved. (right) Computers for Learning, US General Services Administration http://computersforlearning.gov/. (bottom) NREL http://www.nrel.gov/learning/sr_wind.html


Students discover that they already know a lot about energy through their own life experiences. As active consumers of various forms of energy, they are aware of energy purchases for electricity, home heating/cooling and transportation. Through the pedagogical technique of a "carousel," all students become involved in brainstorming and contributing ideas. The goal is to introduce students to key terms and issues associated with energy, as a prerequisite for the rest of the unit.

Engineering Connection

Engineers play a critical role in harnessing energy resources for human use. They are among the professionals who enable our world-wide transportation, communication, safe shelter, etc. These beneficial technological advances consume a lot of energy. But, developed countries, like the US, that have benefitted from engineered technologies now demand a more sustainable consumption of energy. As the national and global populations increase this becomes more and more important in order to reduce energy use and human impacts on the Earth's systems. So today's engineers are creating solutions by designing tools and devices to be more energy efficient and developing new ways to harness renewable energy resources so that our impacts can be minimized.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe how and why energy is important in their own lives.

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • 1 sheet large easel paper
  • wide-tip marker, one per student (assorted colors)

To share with the entire class:

  • (optional) boom box and engaging music to rev up the excitement level


We currently are highly-dependent on fossil fuels for most of our energy supply – this energy is instrumental for maintaining our society's current way of life. However, our supply of non-renewable energy sources is being depleted and may even reach a point at which the limited supply adversely affects our lives. The depletion of fossil fuels stems in part from our current energy use habits. For example, the average American uses six times the energy as the global average. This can be translated to the use of one million dollars worth of energy every minute in the US. It is critical to appreciate the importance of energy in your lives. The amount of energy one person uses is defined as "per capita". Think about your per capita energy use per day. Therefore, the more people that live on the planet, more and more energy gets used.

(Get students thinking about energy topics by asking them questions, such as:)

  • How did you get to school today? Did it require energy? What kind?
  • What energy did you use this morning to get ready for school? (hot shower, making breakfast, using phone, lights, computer, TV)
  • Where did that energy come from? Do you think energy use impacts the Earth's systems?


Before the Activity:

1. Post large-size paper on the walls around the room

2. On each sheet, write a question for students to address to get them to think about how they use energy. Provide at least 3-4 different questions. The questions can be repeated if the class size is large. Example questions:

  • How do you use energy for your mobility? What sources do you use?
  • How do you use energy for your entertainment activities?
  • How do you use energy for your personal comfort? What energy sources are used?
  • How is energy used in the food that you consume (or in other material goods that you consume)?
  • How would your life be different if we had very limited petroleum resources? (Expect answers to include issues related to materials [for example, plastics] and chemicals made from petroleum, not just loss of transportation fuel.)
  • How do you think increases in human population effect the amount of energy used? Do you think this is a concern for the Earth's environmental systems?

With the Students:

1. Divide the class into groups of three students each. Each student is provided with one marker and is stationed at one of the sheets of paper. The different colored markers differentiate their responses on the posters.

2. Start music (optional)

  • Have students respond to questions on the sheets for ~3 minutes, and then rotate to a new station to address the question on that sheet of paper.

3. Regroup and discuss responses and our dependence on energy (integrate some of the detective activity facts during this discussion, if that activity was not done [activity 1]).

4. Discuss ways students could conserve energy in their own lives.

5. Wrap up by asking "Do you think that the choices you make everyday have any effect on the energy issue?" This leads into the next day's Energy Choices Game activity.


Post-Activity Assessment:

Class Discussion: The discussion included in the Procedure section provides an understanding of what students already know about energy issues. A level of current understanding is needed for determining the right level to start further lessons.


Energy Information Agency - Energy Kids Page, U.S. DOE EIA, accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/

Other Related Information

This activity was originally published by the Clarkson University K-12 Project Based Learning Partnership Program and may be accessed at http://www.clarkson.edu/highschool/k12/project/energysystems.html.


Susan Powers, ; Jan DeWaters; and a number of Clarkson and St. Lawrence students in the K-12 Project Based Learning Partnership Program


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2008 Clarkson University

Supporting Program

Office of Educational Partnerships, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY


This activity was developed under National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 0428127 and DGE 0338216. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.