Lesson: Energy Resources and Systems

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

Photo shows a woman standing amidst dark blue angled solar panels on a city rooftop with a blue sky and mountain backdrop.
Rooftop photovoltaic panels provide a low-cost, renewable energy source to homes and buildings.
copyright
Copyright © Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, House of Representatives, US Congress http://giffords.house.gov/legis/solar-events.shtml
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Summary

Several activities are included to teach and research the differences between renewable and non-renewable resources and various energy resources. Students work with a quantitative, but simple model of energy resources to show how rapidly finite, non-renewable energy sources can be depleted, compared to the ongoing availability of renewable resources. Then they complete a homework assignment (or a longer, in-depth research project) to learn how various technologies capture energy resources for human uses, and their pros and cons. Fact sheets help them get started on their investigations of assigned energy sources.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers are primarily responsible for the research, development and design of the equipment that captures energy from renewable and fossil fuel resources for human use. Given the eventual decline in the availability of fossil fuel resources, engineers are currently designing technologies for capturing renewable energy resources that are more efficient, reliable and economically competitive.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, 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.
  • Graphically represent data and explain the trends.
  • Use and explain a mathematical model of a real-life phenomenon.
  • Identify and describe the parts of an energy system.

More Curriculum Like This

Off the Grid

Students learn and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of renewable and non-renewable energy sources. They also learn about our nation's electric power grid and what it means for a residential home to be "off the grid."

High School Lesson
Renew-a-Bead

A quantitative illustration of how non-renewable resources are depleted while renewable resources continue to provide energy. Students remove beads (units of energy) from a bag (representing a country).

Middle School Activity
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In this lesson, students are introduced to the five types of renewable energy resources by engaging in various activities to help them understand the transformation of energy (solar, water and wind) into electricity. Students explore the different roles engineers who work in renewable energy fields ...

Elementary Lesson
Naturally Speaking

In this lesson, students identify the Earth's natural resources and classify them as renewable or non-renewable. They simulate the distribution of resources and discuss the fairness and effectiveness of the distribution.

Elementary Lesson

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.

  • Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association. (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Decisions to develop and use technologies often put environmental and economic concerns in direct competition with one another. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Energy is the capacity to do work. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics (Grades Pre-K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • use representations to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena (Grades Pre-K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • work flexibly with fractions, decimals, and percents to solve problems (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • understand and use ratios and proportions to represent quantitative relationships (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • develop, analyze, and explain methods for solving problems involving proportions, such as scaling and finding equivalent ratios (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • select, create, and use appropriate graphical representations of data, including histograms, box plot, and scatterplots (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • use observations about differences between two or more samples to make conjectures about the populations from which the samples were taken (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. Students should base their explanation on what they observed, and as they develop cognitive skills, they should be able to differentiate explanation from description--providing causes for effects and establishing relationships based on evidence and logical argument. This standard requires a subject matter knowledge base so the students can effectively conduct investigations, because developing explanations establishes connections between the content of science and the contexts within which students develop new knowledge. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations. Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment. Students should begin to state some explanations in terms of the relationship between two or more variables. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry. Mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • 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) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Electrical circuits provide a means of transferring electrical energy when heat, light, sound, and chemical changes are produced. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • In most chemical and nuclear reactions, energy is transferred into or out of a system. Heat, light, mechanical motion, or electricity might all be involved in such transfers. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The sun is a major source of energy for changes on the earth's surface. The sun loses energy by emitting light. A tiny fraction of that light reaches the earth, transferring energy from the sun to the earth. The sun's energy arrives as light with a range of wavelengths, consisting of visible light, infrared, and ultraviolet radiation. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Perfectly designed solutions do not exist. All technological solutions have trade-offs, such as safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance. Engineers often build in back-up systems to provide safety. Risk is part of living in a highly technological world. Reducing risk often results in new technology. (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?
  • Human activities also can induce hazards through resource acquisition, urban growth, land-use decisions, and waste disposal. Such activities can accelerate many natural changes. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Natural hazards can present personal and societal challenges because misidentifying the change or incorrectly estimating the rate and scale of change may result in either too little attention and significant human costs or too much cost for unneeded preventive measures. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Science influences society through its knowledge and world view. Scientific knowledge and the procedures used by scientists influence the way many individuals in society think about themselves, others, and the environment. The effect of science on society is neither entirely beneficial nor entirely detrimental. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another; write an equation to express one quantity, thought of as the dependent variable, in terms of the other quantity, thought of as the independent variable. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables, and relate these to the equation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Construct and interpret scatter plots for bivariate measurement data to investigate patterns of association between two quantities. Describe patterns such as clustering, outliers, positive or negative association, linear association, and nonlinear association. (Grade 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Introduction/Motivation

(Note: Enough information is provided here for the first day and into the second class period of this lesson.)

(Begin the class with a brainstorm discussion. Students are already familiar with some of these issues.)

  1. Where does the energy we use come from? Energy comes from an energy source. (Write the heading, Sources, on the board and brainstorm with the class for examples of energy sources.)
  1. What do we know about these energy sources? (Show pictures provided in the attached PowerPoint file.) Each of these sources has a starting form and is converted into a different form for our convenient use. (Hand out the Sources and Conversion Worksheet for students to use to take notes.)
  • Fossil fuels – chemical (petroleum, natural gas, coal)
  • Uranium – nuclear
  • Biomass – chemical
  • Geothermal – heat (generated from nuclear processes within the Earth)
  • Hydro – mechanical
  • Wind – mechanical
  • Solar - electromagnetic

Can we use this energy in its form? For example, can sunlight be directly used to power a radio? No, a solar photovoltaic panel must be used for energy conversion. An energy system is a set of conversion technologies that convert energy resources, such as energy from the sun, into forms that we can utilize for human needs.

Energy resources are available in our natural world. Solar energy is responsible for almost all of these resources. The sun is responsible for the uneven heating of the Earth that causes wind and sunlight and plant photosynthesis creates biomass materials such as wood or corn that we can convert into useable energy. The exceptions are nuclear and geothermal.

Energy resources that are replenished at the same rate that we use them are defined as renewable energy resources. Solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy are examples of renewable energy. Biomass can be renewable if we use the plant material at the same rate that it regrows. But, if we chop down and burn all the trees in a short period of time, that resource is not considered renewable.

Fossil fuels are also a form of solar energy because they were generated from biomass materials millions of years ago. They are not renewable because we are using them at a much faster rate than they are being regenerated.

Lesson Background and Concepts for Teachers

Most of our energy is originally derived from the sun.

Environmental impacts differ depending upon the energy source and conversion process.

Energy sources can be classified as renewable, nonrenewable or inexhaustible resources.

  • An energy source can be considered renewable if it is replenished within a short period of time.
  • Renewable resources include solar, wind (including offshore), hydro (including micro-hydro), geothermal and biomass.

Two lines on a graph show US oil production and oil imports, 1920-2006. Oil production peaked in the 1970s and has been declining since. Other than a dip in the 1980s, oil imports continue to rise.
Figure 1. US oil production and imports show the concept of peak oil.
copyright
Copyright © Graph data from US Dept. of Energy EIA

The world's supply of nonrenewable fossil fuel resources is limited. Their combustion can negatively affect our environment. Currently, our society is heavily dependent upon nonrenewable fossil fuel energy resources, and our lives could be negatively impacted if the demand for these resources exceeds the supply. This "peak" in the oil supply occurred in the US in the 1970s (see Figure 1). Our country survived that peak by increasing its imports of oil from other countries. As the entire globe faces the next peak in oil production, we'll have to change to other energy sources (and reduce the amount of oil that we consume).

Different energy sources have different costs.

A system is made up of a sequence of conversions. A basic description of an energy conversion is: Energy from a source provides input to another system component, which converts the form and/or state of energy and provides output to another system component.

In the conversion of energy, a significant fraction of that energy can be "lost" from the system (in the form of heat, sound, vibration, etc.). This energy is not really lost, it is just not converted to the desirable or intended form.

The components of an energy system must work together to transform energy into a form that can be used in our society. Systems can be divided into inputs, processes, outputs and feedback.

Vocabulary/Definitions

biomass energy: Energy released from plants (wood, corn, etc.) through combustion or other chemical process.

energy system: An energy system is made up of a sequence of conversions with inputs and outputs that transform an energy resource into a form usable for human work or heating.

fossil fuel: A non-renewable energy resource that began to form millions of years ago from the remains of once living plants and animals. Its current forms include petroleum, coal and natural gas.

geothermal energy : Heat energy from the Earth.

hydropower: Transformation of the energy stored in a depth of water into electricity.

non-renewable energy: Resources, such as fossil fuels, that cannot be replaced by natural processes at the same rate it is consumed.

peak oil : The point at which the rate that a non-renewable resource (oil) can be produced declines due to the limitations of extraction processes and the availability of the resource.

photovoltaic: A chemical process that releases electrons from a semi-conductor material in the presence of sunlight to generate electricity.

renewable energy: Resources, such as wind and water, that can be recycled or replaced at a rate faster than they are consumed.

solar energy: Energy from the sun; often captured directly as heat or as electricity through a photovoltaic process.

system component: One process in a system comprised of many processes or components.

uranium: An element that releases heat as it undergoes radioactive decay.

wind energy: Energy transferred with the motion of air in the lower atmosphere that arises from differential heating of the Earth. The energy in the wind can be extracted as mechanical energy to do work such as grind grains (a wind mill) or generate electricity (wind turbine).

Associated Activities

  • Renew-a-Bead - A quantitative activity shows how non-renewable resources are depleted over time.
  • Energy Sources Research - Students research a particular question of energy source and prepare a report or brief presentation to share with the class (or as a homework assignment).
  • Energy Systems - Students review diagrams of energy systems and label components.

Attachments

Assessment

Class Discussion: At the beginning of the lesson, lead a class discussion to evaluate what students already know about energy sources. Through this brainstorming session, see at what level the students need concepts reinforced.

Worksheet: Have students complete the questions and hand in the Renew-a-Bead Worksheet. Review their answers to gauge their comprehension of the subject matter.

Homework: The fossil fuel graphing activity reinforces the concept that these are non-renewable resources.

Quiz: At the end of this lesson, administer the quiz, which covers materials in lessons 4 and 5.

Research Project (or Homework): The research project on energy sources requires students to read and synthesize information to understand and answer questions related to a particular energy source

References

R.E.A.C.T. Renewable Energy Activities – Choices for Tomorrow Teacher's Activity Guide, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Education Programs, Golden, CO. Accessed December 29, 2008. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/gen/fy01/30927.pdf

Energy Information Administration, EIA Kid's Page – Energy Facts. US Department of Energy. Accessed December 29, 2008. http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/energyfacts/index.html

Biggs, A., Burns, J., Daniel, L.H., Ezralson, C., Feather, R.M., Horton, P.M., McCarthy, T.K., Ortleb, E., Snyder, S.L., Werwa, E. Science Voyages: Exploring Life, Earth and Physical Science, Level Red., Glencoe/McGraw Hill: New York, 2000.

Intermediate Level Science Core Curriculum, Grades 5-8, New York State Education, Department, accessed December 31, 2008. http://www.emsc.nysed.gov/ciai/mst/pub/intersci.pdf

Other Related Information

General Teaching Plan:

This is a multi-day lesson that includes an introduction to energy sources, an activity to understand the value of renewable energy resources, and research on specific sources and their conversions.

Day 1: Intro to Sources

  • Brainstorm and present PowerPoint photos to introduce this lesson (see introductory materials).
  • Assign the Fossil Fuel Graphing Homework.

Day 2: Renewable/Non-renewable resources

  • Complete the Renew-a-Bead Activity.

Day 3: Discuss the results of the Renew-a-Bead Activity and Fossil Fuel Graphing Homework.

Day 4: Energy Sources Research Activity

Day 5: Energy Sources Research (continued)

Day 6: Energy Sources Research presentations and summary (+energy sources trivia, if time)

Day 7: Energy Systems Activity

Day 8: Energy Sources, Systems and Conversions Assessment Quiz

This lesson 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.

Contributors

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

Copyright

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

Supporting Program

Office of Educational Partnerships, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY

Acknowledgements

This lesson was developed under National Science Foundation grants no. 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 4, 2017

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