What is Energy?

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SWBAT write their own definition of energy using observational evidence from objects that use or give off energy.

Big Idea

This is an introductory lesson to the motion and energy unit. It is designed to get students thinking about energy and its forms.


5 minutes

To start this lesson, students are challenged to recall everything they know about the word energy. I approach this by providing the context of using their senses, because....  

Write down what you think of when you hear the word ENERGY.

What does it make you think of?

What do you see?

What do you hear?

Working individually, they answer the questions using their notes sheet. If a student is struggling, I give them an example of something that has or uses energy (e.g., a light bulb) and ask them to think about how they know it has or uses energy.

(Sample student responses in video below.)

At the end of three or four minutes, I ask a few volunteers to share their responses with the whole class, writing down any valuable information that will help us later to decide exactly what energy is. 

The standard MS-PS3-5 addresses specifically the characteristics of mechanical energy (potential and kinetic). In order for students to grasp this concept, they need a conceptual idea of what energy is and what it looks like, sounds like, feels like in order to make connections to movement and position.  This lesson is an introduction to energy and will be followed up with supplementary lessons on mechanical energy and other forms. 


5 minutes

On each table, place an object that uses and/or gives off energy (examples: battery powered car, flashlight, hand powered emergency radio, some kind of small motorized machine, lamp).  The students spend five minutes observing the device and recording their observations in their notes sheet. 

After five minutes, each group will share their observations with the whole class. I will write down any information I think is valuable toward creating our class definition of energy (it makes sound, it moves, it gives off light, it gives off heat). 


10 minutes

Students now review their notes sheet and the notes I have written on the board about the students' observations of the different machines.  They spend 6-8 minutes identifying common themes between the observations.  

I ask the students, "How do we know all of the machines have or use energy?" 

Students generally response with, "It's plugged in or uses batteries. They move or make sounds, light or heat."

From these collective observations, students will work in their small groups to write a definition for energy in their notes sheet, in the EXPLAIN section.  

At the end of the eight minutes, I ask each group to share their definition which I will write on the whiteboard.  


10 minutes

Now that the students have an idea of what energy looks like, sounds like, feels like, they will move around the room with their notes sheet identifying at least five objects that use or give off energy. They then need to explain how they know if has or uses energy (gives off light, sound, heat, moves).  Then, they identify a potential source of energy (electricity, batteries, food if it's a living thing). 

After about  8 minutes,  I ask the children to return to their sheets and we share out 5 responses as a whole class. I write these responses on the whiteboard for everyone to see.  If there's something I recognize as being incorrect, I will ask the students if they agree and why or why not.  This usually corrects the problem.