Hands-on Activity: Wasting Energy at Home

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A finger pressing an on/off switch.
Students explore how to conserve energy in our everyday lives.
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Summary

People use energy in all aspects of their lives—for cooking, lighting and entertainment. Much of this energy use takes place in buildings, such as our homes. To save money and reduce the impact on our environment, many people are reducing their energy use. One way is to hire engineers to perform home energy audits to understand the ways we use energy and identify ways we can conserve energy. In this activity, students act as energy conservation engineers and identify the ways energy is conserved or wasted. They also learn many ways to personally conserve energy everyday.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers perform energy audits to better understand how people use energy and identify ways people can conserve energy. Businesses and homeowners engage these engineers to help reduce their utility bills and help the environment. Recommendations often include using compact fluorescent light bulbs, lowering the thermostat temperature in the winter when the building is unoccupied, planting trees for shade, and improving insulation to reduce heat loss/gain.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Students should have a general understanding of how they use energy and its sources.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain that there are many ways to conserve energy in our everyday lives.
  • Use comprehensive skills in analyzing a situation.
  • Describe several activities in which energy is used.
  • Describe alternative ways to conserve energy for everyday energy-using activities

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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.

  • Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Identify and describe the variety of energy sources (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use multiple resources – including print, electronic, and human – to locate information about different sources of renewable and nonrenewable energy (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

For the entire class to share:

  • scissors
  • Mix and Match Game
  • bag or container, from which students draw a small pieces of paper

Each student needs:

Introduction/Motivation

What is energy conservation? What does it mean to conserve energy? Conservation of energy is the actions we take to reduce the amount of energy we use. It is the smart use of an energy resource. Remember that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it actually just changes forms. For example, when we turn on a radio, electrical energy from the radio plugged into the wall is turned into sound energy. Some of the electrical energy from the radio is also turned into heat energy if we leave the radio on too long!

Can you think of any ways that we might waste energy? Have you ever left a light or television on when you were not in the room? Or left a window or door open while the air conditioning was running? These are examples of small ways in which we waste energy. When we conserve energy, we try to do the opposite of wasting energy. We think about how we use energy and what we can do to decrease that amount. Engineers try to create products that help us conserve energy and not waste too much energy.

Energy efficiency is another approach engineers use when designing devices or appliances that use energy. When energy is converted from one form to another, we want to get all the work out of the energy that we possibly can. But, this does not always happen! Can you think of an example? How about a light bulb again? We want the light bulb to produce light, so we plug the lamp into the wall. Much of the electrical energy is turned into light, but some energy is turned into heat. The heat generated by the light bulb is an indication that the light bulb is not completely energy efficient.

Another example is our bodies. The energy source for human bodies is food and most of that food is changed from food energy into the exercise or movement we are doing. However, some of it is changed into heat, as noted when our body temperature increases as we exercise. Our body is not a very energy efficient machine; during exercise, we actually lose more than half of our energy to heat.

In this activity, we are going to look at many examples of energy-using activities. Acting as engineers, we will decide which of these activities are wasting energy and which are conserving energy. When we find an activity that is wasting energy, let's think about what we could do or design that would help it become an energy conserving-energy activity.

Vocabulary/Definitions

Audit: A methodical examination or review of a condition or situation.

Energy conservation: The wise and efficient use of energy resources, resulting in reduced energy usage.

Procedure

Before the Activity

With the Students

Mix and Match Game (conduct as a class)

  1. As a class, define energy conservation. (Answer: The smart and efficient use of energy resources, resulting in reduced energy usage.)
  2. Have each student choose a piece of paper from the bag. Each piece of paper represents either a wasting-energy activity or a conserving-energy activity.
  3. Have the students mill around the room looking for the person who has their matching conservation/wasting activity. (For each wasting activity, there is one conservation activity.)
  4. Once the students have found their matches, have them discuss, in pairs, how their activities conserve or waste energy.
  5. Conclude by having each pair of students report to the class: their activity and how they conserved and wasted energy. Or, turn this into a class game by having the pair read the activity that wasted energy and have the class suggest a corresponding conservation energy activity. The other pair member concludes by reading their conserving-energy task.

Energy Conservation Worksheet (students complete individually)

  1. Hand out the worksheets.
  2. Direct students to color in red all the squares with activities that waste energy, and color in yellow those activities that show conservation of energy.
  3. Have each student write down and share with the class an example of how s/he can conserve energy. (Possible examples: Turning off lights when they leave the room. Walking slowly.)
  4. Conclude with a class discussion to make sure students understand how each activity wastes or conserves energy. Discuss which activities are easy to do and conserve the most energy by asking the students to vote on all or a few of the everyday activities on the worksheet.

Attachments

Troubleshooting Tips

If the worksheet seems too overwhelming, make it a class activity. See the Activity Scaling section.

If a student does not find his or her match, ask him/her to write on the back of the piece of paper an activity that would be the opposite of the one provided.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Brainstorming Around: As a class, brainstorm with the students the different ways they use energy: running, watching television, cooking, etc. Do this in the form of a game. The first student describes a way s/he uses energy and the next student must come up with a way s/he uses energy that starts with the last letter of the first student's example. For example: 1) running, 2) going to a movie, 3) electric light bulbs, 4) swimming, etc.

Brainstorming: As a class, have the students engage in open discussion to brainstorm all the different ways they use energy at home. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." Take an uncritical position, encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Have students raise their hands to respond. Write their ideas on the board. Take no more than five minutes, as the activity covers most of these ideas.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet: Have students complete the Energy Conservation Worksheet. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.

Mix and Match Game: Have each pair of students report to the class: their activity and how they conserved and wasted energy. Or, turn this into a class game by having the pair read the activity that wasted energy and have the class suggest a corresponding conservation energy activity. The other pair member concludes by reading their conserving-energy task.

Post-Activity Assessment

Efficiency Engineers: Ask the students to go home and find two energy-conserving activities they could do at their own house. Write those ideas down and bring them in the following day to share with the class. (Examples: Turn out the lights more often, change the heater settings when no one is at home, turn down the water heater temperature, turn off appliances if not in use.)

Brainstorming: As a class, brainstorm with the students to come up with ways to conserve energy. Discuss which home appliances use the most energy (the oven, dryer, lamp, etc.). Energy conservation ideas might include: Switching off lights when leaving a room, letting wet clothes or dishes air dry, wearing a sweatshirt instead of turning up the heat, riding a bike instead of driving, using compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs, etc.

Concluding Class Discussion: Students should be able to understand why each activity wastes or conserves energy. Discuss which activities are easy to do and conserve the most energy by asking the students to vote on all or a few of the everyday activities included on the worksheet.

Activity Extensions

Energy conservation measures are not just thought about after buildings are built and in use. Engineers consider energy conservation when they design a building. (For example, placement of windows for natural lighting and cross ventilation, orientation of the house for solar gain, roof overhangs for shading, entry vestibules to reduce heat loss, thicker walls for improved insulation value, etc.) Have students come up with ideas, and draw their idea of an energy efficient home they would like to build. They can use some ideas that were talked about in class, come up with their own or do research on building practices.

Have students share their experiences with energy conservation. Ask them to analyze what the impact would have been if they would have opted to ignore this energy-conserving opportunity. Explain that it is not always easy to conserve energy, that it takes some planning and effort to make arrangements in advance, but that the experience could be worth it and enjoyable (for example, to walk or bike to school with your friends instead of being in a car).

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, if the worksheet seems too overwhelming, make it a class activity. Label each square with a number. Have each student read and analyze one square (with his/her number). Ask each student to read his or her "square" to the class, and indicate if it conserves or wastes energy. If it wastes energy, have the student suggest an alternative idea or activity that would not waste as much energy.
  • For upper grades, after distributing a wasting-energy or a conserving-energy activity piece to each student, ask each to tell the class which type of activity it is, and, if it is a wasting-energy activity, ways that they could change it to a conserving-energy activity.
  • For students who need more challenge, have them calculate the cost of running an appliance on the basis of Watt-hours. For example, a 60-Watt bulb that is on for 20 hours in a day has an energy demand of 60 x 20, or 1,200 Watt-hours (Wh). Add another math component: In summer 2002, in Denver, Colorado, the cost of one kilowatt-hour (kWh) was $0.53 cents during peak hours. To calculate the cost in cents of using the light bulb, convert from Watt-hours to kilowatt-hours by dividing 1,200 by 1,000. The new result is 1.2 kilowatt-hours. When multiplying 1.2 kWh by $0.53, we calculate that our light bulb costs roughly 6.5 cents to run 20 hours per day. Use the electricity prices for your area, as noted on your monthly utility bill.

References

EERE Consumer's Guide: Your Home. Last updated September 12, 2005. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy. Accessed September 18, 2006. http://www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/your_home/

Energy Conservation: Yesterday and Today, Chapter 5. Renewable Energy Curriculum, TVA Kids for Teachers, Tennessee Valley Authority. Accessed September 21, 2005. http://www.tvakids.com/teachers/pdf/elementary_ch5.pdf

Contributors

Sharon D. Perez-Suarez; Natalie Mach; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Copyright

© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under grants from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation (GK-12 grant no. 0338326). However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: July 20, 2017

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