Energy History

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SWBAT analyze historical energy events to determine energy use today.

Big Idea

What's the best way to teach about our energy crisis? Students will look at energy timelines to determine for themselves events leading up to global warming and climate change.


5 minutes

In my lesson Renewable and Non-Renewable Energy Resources students have researched energy sources. My strategy for this lesson is to Dig Deeper into energy history. The purpose is to examine how the history of an energy source impacts how it is used today. 

I start with the US Consumption Energy Chart. In my class they are familiar with this chart from my USA Energy Analysis Lesson. My purpose is to review the information and switch the focus from "How do we use energy?" to "Why is it important to learn about the history of how we use energy?"

I ask students to review the chart and discuss, "What surprises you about the how the USA consumes energy?"

 To promote students learning from one another, table groups share their responses with one another. I discuss with the students how to respond in discussions. Check out my reflection, Accountable Talk for more information. 

I then ask the students to examine the chart and answer the question,"Why is it important to study the history of energy?" My intention is to help the students understand that past practices effect not only how we use energy today but also in the future. 


10 minutes

My next strategy is a close-reading strategy.  The purpose of this section is to discover how Americans use energy. The reading source is the National Academies.  Students read a section called How We Use Energy. These short yet impactful articles explain how our nation uses energy in three sections: Home and Work, Transportation, and Industry.

My first strategy is to dig for Vocabulary words. I give students a print out of the article and ask them to skim it looking for words someone might not know. I try not to say, "Words you don't know." because some feel stupid or insecure about what they don't know. My intention is to promote the development of precise science vocabulary. We add the words to my Word Wall so the students can use the Word Wall as a reference for writing later in the lesson. 

I use a strategy of social learning. I ask them to discuss the words someone at the table might know. For example, one term is economic sector. I allow the students who may know the word to share. If, like me, you teach the same material more than once, I know which words are going to be most difficult.  I alert students to some of the vocabulary beforehand by explaining words like petroleum, combustion, hydrocarbons, refining, and crude oil. I project an image of a oil refinery from Google images during this lesson to help them understand the importance of oil to our society. In addition, I have a white board explaining hydrocarbon. My strategy of digging deeper into science concepts works well because I am introducing concepts, placing words on the Word Wall. This strategy builds background knowledge and gives the students a visual reference to spark their memory. It helps make the information stick. 

After discussing the vocabulary, my strategy is a concept map. The center circle is entitled "How We Use Energy". There are three bubbles off the center, Home, Industry, Transportation. Students are asked to add to the bubbles using facts and statistics as they read from the article.

I give students the opportunity to jigsaw reading the articles and recording information on the concept map in partners or in groups of three. Each student reads one article and then shares what they wrote in the concept map. Reading science articles can be intimidating and I want my students to support one another as they read technical material. 

One of the really cool things that happens is that the students find the activity to be easy. I have worked hard to make the vocabulary understandable, I have added words on the Word Wall so students have a visual reference, and I allow students to work in a group to get important information. Check out my Energy Use: Student Samples to see examples of student work. 

I always have a group of fast pacers. I ask the fast pacers to write a one-sentence summary, explaining what they thought was the most important statistic they learned. It is fascinating to me to learn what they did not know and I am often surprised by their answers. When every group is done, I ask each group to share what they learned about how we use energy. 


ELA 6-81. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

ELA6-8.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.



20 minutes

The concept maps generated in the last section, helped students understand how the nation uses energy. This section helps students examine the history of energy resources. Students use the same energy resource they researched in the Renewable/Non-Renewable Energy Resources lesson. 

My lessons Measuring Kilowatts and Measuring the British Thermal Unit  are important on this lesson. I use my Word Wall to remind the students of the important vocabulary we used when we measuring energy. I explain they will see the words again in the history timelines and will use them in a summary at the end of a lesson. 

Using the Energy Information Association site, I ask students to pull up the Energy Timelines of the energy. I assign groups of two students an energy source. The hard work with vocabulary comes in handy in this section because we have discussed many of the words on the timelines. Keeping students' aware of vocabulary sends the message that the use of these precise words and phrases is part of my expectation. It also helps students develop the vocabulary naturally.

Students record information from the timeline in a T-Chart graphic organizer. This note taking strategy helps student organize important information. I explain they do not have to record everything in the timeline and I teach four main concepts for students to look for as they read:

  1. “How much has energy output changed over the years?”
  2.  “What laws have been made to promote or control energy sources?”
  3. “What technology has been developed to improve the energy resource?” 

I formatively assess as I walk around the room. It is pretty common for students to feel insecure about what to write because there is so much information. If a group is struggling, I give them a Timeline Data:  Key Ideas in the Reflection Section of this lesson to help scaffold insecure students or to help students get on topic. My strategy is to promote learning by offering students more structure. 

SP 8: Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information.

MS-ESS-3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems. 

Crosscutting Ideas: Cause and Effect

SP4: Use graphical displays of large sets of data to identify temporal relationships.



30 minutes

Students work together to analyze the data. I ask students with like energies to determine similarities and differences in findings. I place students with similar energy sources together.  Using their double column notes, students report in small groups the answers to the questions.

I ask them to analyze how the energy has changed over the years. I ask them to respond to several quesitons.

  • Has the availability or the efficiency of the source changed? 
  • Consider the population of the nation. Explain why you think this resource will be or will not be an energy of the future.
  • What technologies have been created to improve your energy resource?
  • How has legislation had an impact on your energy?  


To assess learning, students complete the Literacy Design Collaborative template: 

After examining the history of  ________ , write a 3-5 sentence summary that explains why the history of your energy is important to understand.  Support your discussion with evidence from the timeline. What important information can you share? 

To write the summary, my strategy is social learning.  I allow the students to work together to get ideas but they each write their own summary. 


(SP-4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data) 

(W.8.2 Write explanatory texts to explain a topic and convey ideas, concepts and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.)