Exploring Renewable Energy

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SWBAT evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Big Idea

Students explore the benefits of renewable energy and its impact in maintaining biodiversity.


10 minutes

To engage students in the lesson I show the TEDEd video Biodiesel: The Afterlife of Oil from Natashia Radice.

How could you dispose of your cooking oil when you’re done cooking? The easiest thing to do might be to pour it down your drain -- but if you save it up and send it to a processing plant, it can gain useful new life as biodiesel, a biodegradable energy source which can run in diesel engines instead of refined petroleum. Natascia Radice describes the process of turning goop into good. (MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services./CCC-Stability and Change - use of renewable energy can have impact in other systems.) 

Discussion Questions:

As students watch video they answer the following questions:

1.  Where does biodiesel come from?

a.  Dead dinosaurs only

b.  Dead animals

c.  Dead plants

d.  Petroleum

e.  Both B and C

2.  What do most people do with their used vegetable oil?

a.  Use it again

b.  Throw it down the drain

c.  Save it for recycling 

d.  None of the above

3.  What is the reactor used to make biodiesel?

a.  Glycerol

b.  Esters

c.  Ethanol

d.  Methanol

e.  All of the above

f.  Both C and D

4.  What is the composition of triglycerides?

a.  1 molecule of Glycerol connected to one fatty acid chain

b.  2 molecules of Glycerol connected to 3 fatty acid chains

c.  2 molecules of Glycerol connected to 2 fatty acid chains

d.  1 molecule of Glycerol connected to 3 fatty acid chains


35 minutes

In this section of the lesson students complete What are our Energy Choices? module from The Concord Consortium.

Learning Objective:

Students will explore the advantages and disadvantages of using renewable and non-renewable sources to generate electricity.

Essential Question:

What sources will supply electricity in the future?

Introduction to Activity:

Electricity generation is faced with a growing number of challenges. Energy sources used to generate electricity need to be available, plentiful and energy-dense while not polluting the air, water or land, and minimizing habitat disruptions.

Throughout this module, students explore the advantages and disadvantages of different energy sources for generating electricity and consider the question: what sources will generate our electricity in the future? You will focus on the process of extracting natural gas from shale formations through hydraulic fracturing and run experiments with computational models to investigate how gas is extracted. You will evaluate other energy resources and consider how changes in energy use by individuals are an important part of understanding electricity supply and demand. By the end of the module you will be able to compare the costs and benefits of different sources used for generating electricity.


This module contains five activities, each approximately 45 minutes long.

Activity 1: Electricity Sources and Challenges

Activity 2: Extracting gas from shale

Activity 3: Evaluating natural gas

Activity 4: Evaluating other energy sources

Activity 5: Energy Efficiency         


For the purpose of this lesson students complete Activity 4:  Evaluating other Energy Resources. (SP4-Analyzing and Interpreting Data)

In this activity, students analyze other energy sources, comparing the costs and benefits of natural gas, coal, biomass, nuclear, wind, hydro, and solar power for generating electricity.  Students complete the activity in pairs, using student laptops.  Based on the level of the class, you could project the module to navigate students through questions that they might have difficulty with, in particular the data analysis of various graphs presented in module.


10 minutes

In this section of the lesson students read an article on Renewable Energy Resources from cK-12.  

  • Students use the Writing in the Margins strategy to access text.
    • Writing in the margins engages readers in the reading task and allows them to document their thinking while reading. Both writing in the margins and drawing in the margins engages students in actively thinking about the texts they read. The power of this strategy is not the actual act of writing and drawing in the margins; instead, it is the thinking processes that students must undergo in order to produce such ideas.

For this particular text students use the Visualize Strategy.

    • Visualize what the author is saying and draw an illustration in the margin. Visualizing what authors say will help you clarify complex concepts and ideas. 

The text covers the following:

  1. Wind
  2. Sunlight
  3. Hydroelectric Power
  4. Biomass
  5. Geothermal Energy

Summary of Text

  • Renewable resources are natural resources that can be replaced in a relatively short period of time or are virtually limitless in supply.
  • Renewable energy resources include wind, sunlight, moving water, biomass, and geothermal energy. Except for biomass, which is burned, these renewable energy resources produce little if any pollution, although each has other drawbacks.

Once students have read the article they answer the following questions:

  1. What is a renewable resource?
  2. List five renewable energy sources. What form of energy does each resource supply?

In addition to the text I show students the Renewable Energy Resources Part 1 video due to its use of visuals. This meet the needs of both my visual and EL Learners.

As students watch the video they answer the following questions in their interactive notebooks:

  1. Why are renewable energy resources needed?
  2. Give two examples of renewable energy resources.
  3. What is one main advantage of the examples given in this video?


5 minutes

In this section of lesson students are expected to respond to the prompt below, developing their own argument based upon the evidence from lesson activities including the additional resources below.

Even though right now many forms of renewable energy are more expensive to use than 
conventional fossil fuels, should we still prioritize their use? Why?

  1. Benefits of Renewable Energy Use
  2. U.S. Department of Renewable Energy
  3. Benefits of Renewable Energy


Students use the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning format for writing their response. More about supporting CER in student thinking and writing can be found in my reflection. (SP7 - Engaging in Argument from Evidence/WHST.6-8.1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence/RST.6-8.1:Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.)