How Do Our Homes Get Energy?

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SWBAT analyze how energy is generated and used in the USA.

Big Idea

How do we get electricity into our homes? Students have no idea where the electricity before it channels into their homes. This lesson helps students understand where electricity comes from and what happens in a power plant.


10 minutes


In this lesson I use a Reverse Flow Chart to promote student engagement through curiosity. This is a concrete strategy that helps students realize where gaps in their understanding occur. (This strategy is described in depth in the video How Do I Get Energy to My Home?)

Our question is: “How does electricity get to your home?”

On each table are 4" x 4" pieces of paper. One student in the group draws an outlet in the wall. I ask students to follow the electricity through what they think is the path. For example, "How does the electricity get to the outlet?" Answer: "Wires in the house." "How does the electricity get to the wires in the house?"  Each of the students takes a piece of paper and adds a step in the flow of electricity backwards from the outlet. 

The groups discuss their answers and make the drawings. When they are done, I collect the drawings and say, “Let’s see how correct you were”. (SP1- Asking Questions and Defining Problems to clarify and/or refine an explanation).


25 minutes

To integrate technology students explore the path from power plants to homes using an animated site called Tesla Town. My strategy is incorporating technology. Sponsored by the University of Illinois, this site offers an interactive method for understanding the flow of electricity. 

Students move to a computer with a partner. I give them the Tesla Town- Student Instructions directions. This document has specific instructions and I use it so students can work independently on the activity.

I demonstrate where to start. Students start at the Edison School of Energy to see how Faraday’s generator works. By turning a crank, students make a row of lights light up. I ask them to switch out the light bulb to determine the volts they can produce by turning the crank.

Question: What is the generator made of? What needs to be done to generate electricity?

I live in Northern Illinois and our energy is transferred from coal power plants and nuclear power plants. I ask students to go to the coal power plant. They will transfer coal, light a fire and turn a generator. I ask the question, “Why are some people concerned about burning coal to make the generator work?” 

Students then proceed to the nuclear power plant. I ask, "What is an advantage of nuclear power? 

The students then go to the first substation. They read how electricity must transfer to a higher power to travel long distances and then sent to another transformer to lower the voltage so it is safe in a house. I ask the question, “Why must they make the voltage higher and then lower? What would happen if the electricity would not get changed to a higher and lower voltage?” (SP-2: Developing and Using Models Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.)

I ask the students to go back to their groups and look at the Energy Flow chart. I ask, "Did you get every step?” Students add or remove steps so they have a complete flow chart. I spend time Scaffolding the Flow Chart. I ask them to copy the flow chart into their notebooks.

My students have learned about the Law of Conservation of Energy (Exploring the Law of Conservation of Energy) so it is appropriate to ask students to label the energy transfers. They must start with the generator and end with the outlet in the wall.

By writing all of the Tesla Town steps combined in the notebooks, students have a resource to refer to if they get confused about how the energy is produced. 


20 minutes

To support visual learners, I show a video - Energy 101: Electricity Generation (by Energy and Environment News). This five-minute clip explains the same concepts in Tesla Town using animation. In student reflections on their learning, my students have indicated that this video has helped them understand how energy gets into their homes.   

At the end of the video, students go back to their groups and look at the Flow Charts they created. I ask, "Did you get every step?”Students add or remove steps so they have a complete flow chart. I ask them to copy the flow chart into their notebooks. 

And again, just as they did after Tesla Town, students go back to label the energy transfers, starting with the generator and ending with the outlet in the wall. Thinking models aren't static - as we learn our models are refined. I am deliberately modeling the use of revision of concept maps as a learning strategy throughout our exploration of how energy gets to our homes.

By writing all of the Flow Chart steps combined in the notebooks, students have a resource to refer to if they get confused about how the energy is produced.  



20 minutes

I use Summary Writing as a strategy for evaluation. Students have examined how energy reaches their homes. This summary has several important uses. I am assessing the student understanding from energy initiation to energy used in a home. In addition, I am pre-assessing their level of prior knowledge of climate change. 

My intention is for students to write about the path of energy as it relates to themselves and their families. I want to assess their understanding of how their energy needs contribute to climate change. In the lesson, students examined burning coal as a means to generate energy and they responded to why some people are against burning coal. I want to determine if they generalized this learning to their own lives. 

I ask them to write a 3-5 sentence summary using the prompt: 

Explain how your family's energy needs have an impact on climate change. Include information from your energy notebook, the movie, or Tesla Town to support your ideas. Include what your family can do to curb climate change. 

With this information I can determine the path for additional learning. For some students, I may need to work with them individually to help them make the learning leap. I give them the opportunity to change their summary to earn the points.