Hands-on Activity Energy Sources Research

Quick Look

Grade Level: 8 (6-8)

Time Required: 2 hours

(three 40-minute classes; less class time is required if done as homework instead of in-class activity with presentation)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Physical Science, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle

Six energy photos form the paddles of a pinwheel shape, including a wind turbine, dam, solar-powered car prototype and CFL light bulb.
Our nation is increasingly using renewable energy sources to feed our rising consumption of energy.
Copyright © Oak Ridge National Laboratory http://info.ornl.gov/sites/rams09/b_davis/Pages/Technology.aspx


Fact sheets are provided for several different energy resources as a starting point for students to conduct literature research on the way these systems work and their various pros and cons. Students complete a worksheet for homework or take in-class time for research and presentation of their findings to the class. This approach requires students to learn for themselves and teach each other, rather than having the teacher lecture about the subject matter.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers must always decide on what solutions are best in a given situation. Engineers who are developing alternative energy systems must consider a variety of different constraints and criteria for choosing which source might be best for a particular application. The technical effectiveness is one way to chose the best (for example, need a lot of sunny days for solar energy), but environmental and economic criteria are also important.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify at least five sources of energy.
  • Explain why an increased dependence on renewable energy sources is an inevitable part of our future.
  • Describe how the depletion of fossil fuels is a serious global issue.

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.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ESS3-4. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Construct an oral and written argument supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem.

Alignment agreement:

Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise.

Alignment agreement:

All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

Alignment agreement:

Scientific knowledge can describe the consequences of actions but does not necessarily prescribe the decisions that society takes.

Alignment agreement:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the effects of technology on the environment. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Analyze how different technological systems often interact with economic, environmental, and social systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, sound, nuclei, and the nature of a chemical. Energy is transferred in many ways. (Grades 5 - 8) More Details

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  • Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot. (Grades 5 - 8) More Details

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  • Technology influences society through its products and processes. Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact. Technological changes are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes that can be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and to society. Social needs, attitudes, and values influence the direction of technological development. (Grades 5 - 8) More Details

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  • Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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Materials List

Each group needs:

  • Research Packet (fact sheets – each group gets all of the fact sheets)
  • Student Worksheet, one per student
  • paper, pencils and markers
  • (optional) Internet access, for research

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cla_activity2_energy_sources_research] to print or download.


Who remembers what our unit project is all about? (Be prepared to state this again.) One of the key steps in our problem solving spiral is "to gather information." We've been gathering information about energy sources and why we might want to consider using some energy sources more than others. One way to change is to consider a different source of energy. But we need to learn more! If you were to consider implementing a different energy source and conversion process, what would you want to know about it? (Lead a class brainstorming session.)

  • How it really works
  • Cost
  • Environmental impact
  • How it can be used in your home
  • Others?

In the few classes we will learn more about these sources so that we can evaluate whether any of them might be suitable recommendations for our energy project. Think about how these various energy alternatives might be utilized in your project as we go through this research.


  1. Divide the class into groups of three students each.
  2. Hand out the research packets and activity sheets. (Note: Two versions available, one as homework and one as an in-class group activity.)
  3. Each group answer one question for all seven energy sources.
  4. Assign each group one of the seven research questions (If fewer than seven groups, choose just a few questions, preferably how it works, one economic question, one environmental question, etc.). The "how things work" question might warrant a few groups assigned to it with each group just answering the question for a few of the sources.
  5. Explain to students that by doing this research, they will become experts on the specific aspect of energy sources. (For example, they will be experts on the environmental effects of energy sources.)
  6. Each group makes a decision based on the specific aspect they researched, as to which source is best.
  7. This may take more than one day. Have students who finish early move on to the next step outlined in the following day.
  8. Have each group prepare one-page handouts summarizing findings.
  • Give each group a blank piece of regular copy paper and markers.
  • In preparation for the next day's class, make copies of each handout for each student. Make a transparency of the handout for the groups to use for their presentations.
  1. Have each group present its handout to the class.
  2. Write on the board which energy source each group felt was best.
  3. As a class, discuss the pros and cons and decide which ones are most feasible for a home.
  4. Closure:
  • Relate this to the semester project: How might you use this information to address the question posed at the beginning of the energy unit?
  • Tell students that in the next class they will look at the systems for those sources.
  1. If extra time, use the Energy Trivia PowerPoint to review the facts students researched.


Worksheets: Collect and grade student presentations and worksheets. Students' abilities to answer questions and participate in the discussion after the research provides an indication of how much they understand the various aspects of these systems and can weigh their pros and cons.


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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://internal.clarkson.edu/highschool/k12/project/energysystems.html.


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


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

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.

Last modified: August 16, 2023

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