Introduction to Energy: Types, Conservation, and Conversion of Energy

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Students will be able to differentiate the various types of energy and explain how energy can be converted from one form to another through taking notes and performing activities on the computers.

Big Idea

Energy can be characterized as potential or kinetic. Additionally energy cannot be created or destroyed but rather can be converted from one form to another.


In this lesson students are introduced to the idea of energy as potential or kinetic as well as the law of conservation of energy and how energy can be converted between different forms.

  • This lesson aligns with the Next Generation Performance Expectation of HS-PS3-3: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
  • This lesson aligns with the Next Generation Crosscutting Concept 5: Energy and matter.  It does so because students are thinking about the various forms of energy and how energy can be converted between different forms.

For this lesson students need access to the internet through computers or tablets.


10 minutes

In this first section of the lesson students are asked to think about energy so that I can get an idea of their prior knowledge of the concept. 

To do this I pose the following on the first slide of the unit6 lecture 1 PowerPoint:

What is Energy?

With your table group come up with a definition and examples of energy.

Record on your group’s whiteboard

I give students about 5 minutes to talk with their groups and have something written down.  I then tell students that whomever was doing the writing should pass the board to someone else to share out.  I then go around to each group and have them share out what they came up with.

Some examples of student responses include:

  • Electricity
  • Movement
  • Physical movement
  • The motion of things
  • Strength
  • Light
  • Fire
  • What is needed to perform task

These are some examples of student whiteboards:

  1. energy whiteboard #1
  2. energy whiteboard #2
  3. energy whiteboard #3
  4. energy whiteboard #4
  5. energy whiteboard #5

This movie is an example of students sharing out in the classroom.

By doing this I am able to check students prior knowledge about what energy is and look for misconceptions in regards to what types of things are energy and the idea of energy as both potential and kinetic.


30 minutes

This next section of the lesson is the meat of the lesson where I teach content related to energy basics.  I present the information on the PowerPoint while students fill in content on the first page of their notes graphic organizer.

This includes:

  • The definition of energy and potential vs. kinetic energy with examples (slides 3-4).
  • Six of the major forms of energy with examples (slides 5-7)
  • Law of conservation of energy (slide 8)
  • Examples of the conversion of energy (slides 9-10)

As I present this information there are a lot of examples so I make sure to help students see how the examples make sense.  With the final slide in regards to the conversion of energy I talk with students about efficiency and how the amount of potential energy used as gasoline is technically only about 25% efficient in regards to what is used as mechanical energy to move the car where most of it is lost as heat.

This is a movie of my explanation of the transfer of energy and efficiency of light bulbs.

Here is a copy of a student's filled in graphic notes organizer.



60 minutes

In this section of the notes students have a chance to work with the forms of energy and see how energy is transferred through performing two computer activities.  These activities are found on the second page of their notes graphic organizer.

I only have 8 desktop computers in my classroom so for the activities students are instructed to work with their table groups.  I encourage them to make sure to all participate through taking turns controlling the mouse, to discuss the decisions that they make in regards to the lab protocols, and that they are all responsible for recording data on their papers.

I begin by explaining to students that they will be going up to their computers and doing these two activities.  For more details on how I do this and some tips for using computers in the classroom see my reflection below on using computers in the classroom.

For the first virtual lab activity students are working with the Glencoe "How is Energy Converted from One form to Another" virtual lab. 

  • This lab is found on Glencoe's website.
  • Students are instructed to figure out the 3 different energy types in 4 different sequences. As they guess the different types of energy based on pictures they are able to check their answers.  They then have a place on their paper to fill in the correct energy types for each sequence
  • For example in the first sequence chemical energy from sunlight is used to make food in plants, then is converted to chemical energy when someone eats and food energy is stored in muscles, and is finally converted to mechanical energy when the person uses his muscles to ride a bicycle.
  • I like this activity because it gives students the opportunity to examine some "real world" examples of energy transfer.

For the second virtual lab activity students are working with one of the University of Colorado's PhET lab activities "Energy Forms and Changes"

  • This lab is found on the PhET website. It can be located from the website on the day of the lab or can be downloaded onto the computer (as I have done in my classroom)
  • Students are instructed to choose devises to construct a working energy diagram. 
  • Once students have constructed a working diagram they are expected to perform a sketch of it on their paper and describe their system with the devices they used and the type of energy that each produced.
  • I give them an example of a system where water produces mechanical energy that causes a wheel to turn and produce electrical energy, which causes water to boil producing thermal energy.
  • I like this activity because students can work with the various options to come up with their own system.  This activity can be tricky but tends to be easier after students have done the previous Glencoe activity.
  • Here is a movie which shows an example of how I have one group explain to me the type of system that they came up with and how energy is transferred within the system.

This is a copy of a Student's filled in notes graphic organizer with the second page having answers for the two computer activities.