Hands-on Activity: Solving Energy Problems

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

Two photos: (left) Four people sit in a circle talking and thinking together. (right) Three students around a table work with newspaper, string and balloons to create a parachute-type device.
Let's get started on our energy problem project.
Copyright © (left) 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved. (right) NASA http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/educ/resources.cfm


The culminating energy project is introduced and the technical problem solving process is applied to get students started on the project. By the end of the class, students should have a good perspective on what they have already learned and what they still need to learn to complete the project.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Scientists, engineers and people around the world problem solve every day to work out solutions to all sorts of challenges. Using a systematic and iterative procedure to solve problems is efficient and provides a logical flow of knowledge and progress.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the technological method of problem solving, and be able to apply the method to a real-life problem.

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Students are introduced to a systematic procedure for solving problems through a demonstration and then the application of the method to an everyday activity. The unit project is introduced to provide relevance to subsequent lessons.

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Elementary Lesson
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The Energy Systems and Solutions unit brings students through the exploration of science and engineering concepts as they relate to energy issues in everyday life. This project-based curriculum follows an engineering problem solving approach; students simultaneously learn and use scientific and math...

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This six-day lesson provides students with an introduction to the importance of energy in their lives and the need to consider how and why we consume the energy we do.

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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.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design involves a set of steps, which can be performed in different sequences and repeated as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Brainstorming is a group problem-solving design process in which each person in the group presents his or her ideas in an open forum. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations. Students should develop the ability to refine and refocus broad and ill-defined questions. An important aspect of this ability consists of students' ability to clarify questions and inquiries and direct them toward objects and phenomena that can be described, explained, or predicted by scientific investigations. Students should develop the ability to identify their questions with scientific ideas, concepts, and quantitative relationships that guide investigation. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions. Students should develop the ability to listen to and respect the explanations proposed by other students. They should remain open to and acknowledge different ideas and explanations, be able to accept the skepticism of others, and consider alternative explanations. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify appropriate problems for technological design. Students should develop their abilities by identifying a specified need, considering its various aspects, and talking to different potential users or beneficiaries. They should appreciate that for some needs, the cultural backgrounds and beliefs of different groups can affect the criteria for a suitable product. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design a solution or product. Students should make and compare different proposals in the light of the criteria they have selected. They must consider constraints--such as cost, time, trade-offs, and materials needed--and communicate ideas with drawings and simple models. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Implement a proposed design. Students should organize materials and other resources, plan their work, make good use of group collaboration where appropriate, choose suitable tools and techniques, and work with appropriate measurement methods to ensure adequate accuracy. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Evaluate completed technological designs or products. Students should use criteria relevant to the original purpose or need, consider a variety of factors that might affect acceptability and suitability for intended users or beneficiaries, and develop measures of quality with respect to such criteria and factors; they should also suggest improvements and, for their own products, try proposed modifications. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences. Scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations. Technological solutions are temporary; technologies exist within nature and so they cannot contravene physical or biological principles; technological solutions have side effects; and technologies cost, carry risks, and provide benefits. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 4. Energy exists in many forms, and when these forms change energy is conserved. (Grades K - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

No materials for this activity except the attached Energy Project Worksheet.


A line drawing in a spiral shape shows these steps: 1) describe the problem, 2) describe the result you want, 3) gather information, 4) think of solutions, 5) choose the best solution, 6) implement the solution, 7) evaluate results and make necessary changes.
The seven steps of the Technological Method of Problem Solving.
Copyright © 1993 Adapted from Hacker, M, Barden B., Living with Technology, second edition. Delmar Publishers, Albany NY

The first step in solving a problem is to understand what you want to accomplish. It is critical that you identify what you already know about the problem, as well as what you need to learn.

In this activity we will apply the Technological Method of Problem Solving to get started on the energy project. The energy "problem" discussed thus far includes issues related to a limited supply of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions and other air pollutants. Engineers have been developing solutions to this problem. Some of the solutions help to make devices such as cars use fuel more efficiently. Other solutions focus on identifying new energy resources that we can extract for useful work or power.The development of renewable energy resources should help to make our energy systems more sustainable for the future.

Individuals can also make decisions and choices that help to address our energy challenges. People can choose to use less energy (conservation), buy products that use energy more efficiently (efficiency), or install new energy systems for their homes (new sources). Individuals are solely responsible for decisions related to conservation. Both engineers and consumers are responsible for making and purchasing energy-efficient products or equipment to utilize renewable energy sources (for example, solar panels). In the energy project introduced today, solutions that conserve energy, use energy more efficiently or introduce new energy sources could be appropriate.


Before class:

  • Make copies of the worksheet, one per student, which includes the energy problem statement.

With the students:

  • Project or draw the problem solving spiral diagram on the board. Discuss what we now know about the nature of the energy problem (limited fossil fuels, over consumption, global warming etc.) and possible solutions (conservation, efficiency, renewable sources). The students have learned about these issues already through the energy choices game and graphing activity.
  • Define the goal of this unit: To complete a project to start to address the problems associated with this energy crisis. We certainly cannot expect to solve this entire problem in a few weeks!
  • Hand out the worksheets, which includes the energy project description. Goal of today's class is to start to understand the problem and identify what we need to learn soon to complete this project.
  • Support the groups by asking probing questions related to what they have recently learned (for example, some of the issues raised in the energy choices game).
  • Closure: Have students regroup and share their ideas. Collect worksheets.



Collect and review worksheets to evaluate students' understanding of the overall process and the particulars of this specific project.

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.

Last modified: May 10, 2017