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.


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.

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.

Educational Standards

  •   International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
  •   National Science Education Standards: Science
  •   New York: Science
  •   Next Generation Science Standards: Science

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.

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.
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: February 11, 2016

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