Lesson: Water Power

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Lesson Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Earth and Space, Science and Technology

Summary

Students observe a model waterwheel to investigate the transformations of energy involved in turning the blades of a hydro-turbine. They work as engineers to create model waterwheels while considering resources such as time and materials, in their designs. Students also discuss and explore the characteristics of hydropower plants.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

A mill wheel in action.
What energy transformations are involved with a waterwheel?
copyright
Copyright © https://pixabay.com/p-352244/?no_redirect

Engineering Connection

Dams capture energy from a renewable energy source - water - and can reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to generate electricity. Civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, software and environmental engineers design and re-design hydroelectric dams to make them more environmentally-friendly and generate more electricity.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify dams as a source of hydropower.
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of human-made dams.
  • Explain how engineers design and redesign hydropower technologies.
  • Use counting to measure the rate of revolution of a waterwheel.

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

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

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This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

Alignment agreement:

Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.

Alignment agreement:

Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

4-PS3-4. Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another. (Grade 4)

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This lesson focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Apply scientific ideas to solve design problems.

Alignment agreement:

Energy can also be transferred from place to place by electric currents, which can then be used locally to produce motion, sound, heat, or light. The currents may have been produced to begin with by transforming the energy of motion into electrical energy.

Alignment agreement:

The expression "produce energy" typically refers to the conversion of stored energy into a desired form for practical use.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

Energy can be transferred in various ways and between objects.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones.

Alignment agreement:

  • Energy comes in many forms such as light, heat, sound, magnetic, chemical, and electrical (Grade 4) More Details

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  • Identify and describe the variety of energy sources (Grade 4) More Details

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High School Activity

Introduction/Motivation

A photograph shows a huge concrete dam holding back a reservoir of water in a narrow rocky canyon.
Figure 1. Hoover Dam in Boulder City, NV.
copyright
Copyright © US Bureau of Reclamation http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/

Humans have been using water for power for a long time. More than 2,000 years ago, farmers used waterwheels to grind wheat into flour. A waterwheel spins as a stream of water, which is being pulled down by gravity, hits its blades. The gears of the wheel drive heavy, flat, rotating stones that grind the wheat into flour. Hydropower plants use the same action of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine and a generator convert the energy from the falling water to mechanical and then electrical energy. The biggest advantages of using hydropower for electricity are that it is a renewable resource and it does not give off air pollution during operation.

Dams also use the waterwheel concept for generating electricity. Dams are some of the largest human-made structures on Earth. In fact, the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River in Nevada is 221 meters high, 379 meters long and 14 meters wide at the top. That is pretty big! It has 17 electric generators and provides electricity for about 500,000 homes in Nevada, Arizona and California.

Engineers design and improve dams in order to capture energy from a renewable source—water. Using dams is a way to generate electricity without burning fossil fuels. Engineers also re-design existing dams to be friendlier for fish and to work better at making hydroelectric power.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Voting: To warm up the class, ask the following true/false question and have students vote by holding thumbs up for true and thumbs down for false. Tally the votes and write the numbers on the board. Give the right answers.

  • True or False: Hydropower dams reduce pollution (Answer: True)
  • True or False: Hydropower dams are cheap to build (Answer: False: they can be very expensive to build.)
  • True or False: Hydropower dams rarely interfere with natural wildlife (Answer: False: dams can disrupt migratory fish patterns and spawning habits, especially for species like salmon. This can have devastating effects on both the fish population and people whose livelihoods depend on these fish.)

Activity Embedded Assessment

Question/Answer: Ask students how hydromills and windmills are similar (Both have "vanes" and a turbine shaft and both generate energy that is renewable).

Post-Activity Assessment

Engineering Design project: Divide students into groups and tell them that they are working for H2O Solutions, an engineering design firm that works mostly with waterwheels and water energy. The city has asked them to design a more efficient watermill. The firm has been split into several engineering teams (student groups). Tell the teams that they must design a functioning waterwheel that turns and their constraint is to use only the materials provided for their designs. Ask them to sketch their new design and test their designs. Have a few groups present their designs to the rest of the class indicating what elements worked well and what they could improve on.

  • Ask students to describe, in general terms, how hydropower works. They can use some information from the demonstration/activity to support their ideas.
  • Ask the students to brainstorm how they think they could make their watermill more efficient if they had even more resources (materials, time) available.
  • Ask the students to compare other teams designs based on how well each meets the criteria and constraint of the problem. Decide which new design is the best and why?

Lesson Extension Activities

  • Divide the class into a few groups and provide each group with a different type of bottle (different shapes and volume capacities) with which to make hydro-mills. Ask each group to come to the sink where the tap water is running at the same flow rate for each water mill. Have students compare their water mills to their peers' based on the number of turns per minute for a given and constant water flow rate. Ask the students why their water mill performs differently than other groups' mills. Which type works the best? Why?
  • Make some other turbine models. http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/projects/turbine.html or http://www.energyquest.ca.gov/projects/hydro-power.html
  • Have students conduct research: How much water do Americans use daily? For what purposes? Do people in other countries use as much water? What are some ways to conserve water?

References

American Rivers, www.amrivers.org

California Energy Commission, www.energyquest.ca.gov

How Stuff Works, www.howstuffworks.com/hydropower-plant.htm

Foundation for Water and Energy Education, fwee.org

PBS Online, www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/dam/index.html

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Science for Schools, ga.water.usgs.gov/edu

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources of the U.S., water.usgs.gov

Other Related Information

Search for images at NREL at www.nrel.gov.

Copyright

© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado

Contributors

Amy Kolenbrander; Jessica Todd; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Janet Yowell

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: August 22, 2019

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