Hands-on Activity: Energy Sources Research

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

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.

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.

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:

  • 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.

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


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 gropus 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.

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 University 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.