Energy Transformation Project - Day 2

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From the center of the sun to you and me, students research the types of energy and energy transformations that occur.

Big Idea

Energy is not created or destroyed but changes from one form to another.


This is a four day project whose purpose is to have students develop an understanding of where and how we get the energy that we use every day. Students use content from several other lessons in this unit including: Energy Skate Park which covers conservation of energy, kinetic and potential energy, The Sankey Diagram which covers several different energy transformations and Energy is NOT Always Conserved which covers E=mc^2.

Day 1: Energy transformation primer. In groups, students review several different types of energy and create an example of their own energy transformation. Then, they choose one area of study from the chart. They determine the types of energy transformations for their area and pass in their work into me for review.

Day 2: In Google docs or MS-Word, the groups create a one page document that explains their area. I meet with student groups to ensure they have accurate information.

Day 3: Student teams present their area to the rest of the class, the first group starts at the center of the sun and we work our way through the entire path that energy takes to reach us. All students take notes on their peers presentations.

Day 4: Individual students trace the path energy takes from the Sun all the way to a thrown baseball.

The NGSS Performance Standards applied in this project are HS-PS3-2: Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative positions of particles (objects) and HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.

The following NGSS Science Practices are also used: Science Practice 1: Asking questions (for science),  Science Practice 2: Developing and using models, Science Practice 6: Constructing explanations for science and Science Practice 8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.  CCSS Math Practice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others is also an important part of this as students have a lot of information to sift through and they have to choose what is relevant to their area and communicate it to the rest of the class.

Introducing Parker Diagrams

15 minutes

At the end of the Energy Transformation Project - Day 1, I collected group outlines that show the energy transformations for their area. At the beginning of this lesson, I pass back each groups' outline with comments on them. I noticed a weakness on Sankey Diagrams which is the diagram shows energy in and energy out, but does not include energy transformations happening during the process.

The energy project has many energy transformations happening at each area and it would be useful to have a diagram that shows these processes. For a simple example, I talk about a microwave oven. It has an input energy that is 100% electrical energy. This electrical energy becomes radiation energy in the form of microwaves and thermal energy due to the resistance in the wires. Then the microwave radiation energy is absorbed by the food which changes it to thermal energy. A Sankey Diagram of the entire process might show input of electrical energy and output of thermal (in the wires and in the food) and does not have to include the energy transformation of microwaves. 

So I create "Parker Diagrams". The Parker Diagram shows the energy transformations over time, rather than just the input and the output. The Parker Diagram of the microwave oven is pictured below.

Much like a Sankey diagram, which was introduced to the students on an earlier lesson, the Parker diagram shows energy transformation that happen in an object and the relative amount of energies involved in each transformation. I give each student group a copy of the Parker Diagram rules which also contains samples. I inform them that their energy transformation project should contain not only the different types of energies but should quantify the relative amounts of energies that happen in their transformation. In order to calculate the relative amounts of energy, students should research the relative amounts of energy in their transformation using a textbook or reliable internet resource. Their sources must be included on their final report. The final project that students create for their projects should include either a Parker diagram or a Sankey diagram. 

Now that I have introduced this new kind of diagram, students are to spend the rest of the period on their reports. I spend the rest of the period to meet with groups to see their progress.

Meet with Groups to Check Progress on Energy Project

35 minutes

Due at the end of class is the energy transformation project, which is a one-page document that shows the energy transformations for their chosen area. Groups spend the rest of the period to complete their project.

While groups work to complete the project, I meet with individual groups. It is important to give this type of guidance and support and to clear up any misunderstandings that students might have. Also, there are times when a group has a question but they don't ask it. These meetings provide an opportunity for students to get their questions answered without students having to call me over. 

The goal here is to make sure students are on task and on pace to finish the project. I check the progress on project and to make sure groups have at least three energy transformations and that the energy types are accurate. Here is a video recording of a conference with two students. 

The original energy chart from yesterday's class, I had not included wind turbines. This class has more than 22 students (2 students per area) so I added a few areas to the chart. It is necessary to adjust our practice based on the specific circumstances for our class.

Diagram 1: Areas of the energy transformation project for which each group makes an overview.

At the end of class, I collect the projects. Tomorrow, students present their projects starting with the sun moving down through the areas on the bottom of the chart.