How To Define Energy

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Students will use graphic organizers to demonstrate an understanding of how to define energy.

Big Idea

Energy is the "currency" of work., but a single model for energy does not (yet) exist.


This lesson addresses the HSA-REI.A.1, HSF-BF.A.1a, and HS-PS3-1 standards as a way to effectively compose a logical understanding of energy transfer mechanisms in the context of a college level physics text. Students research concepts related to energy transfer using the NGSS Practices of Developing and Using Models (SP2) and Using Mathematical and Computational Thinking (SP5). Students begin by creating a mind map that illustrates the connections between physics concepts and energy. Students use the class digital text and a set of graphic organizers to ask questions and answer those questions in the context of the textbook. During the closure activity at the end of this lesson, I ask students to construct a definition to demonstrate an understanding of the concept of "Energy". 

I assess student understanding throughout the lesson using informal check-ins, and will assess each student's work at the end of the school day. I want students to learn to integrate information from various points of this course into a coherent summary on the nature of Energy Transfer Mechanisms. In this lesson, students have to leverage skills like note taking to construct an explanation of energy changes within a system.  One goal of this lesson is to help students learn that synthesizing information from more than one credible source is an effective way to communicate scientific information about the concept of "Energy".


10 minutes

This portion of the lesson begins with a routine where students write the objective and additional piece of information in their notebooks as soon as they enter the classroom. I project a slide with the date, the objective and an additional prompt  on the interactive whiteboard with a red label that says "COPY THIS" in the top left-hand corner. Sometimes the additional prompt is a BIG IDEA for the lesson, or the Quote of the Day or a Quick Fact from current events that is related to the lesson. The red label helps my students easily interact with the information as soon as they enter the room and avoids losing transition time as students enter the classroom.

Today's additional piece of information is a Big Idea which states that energy is the currency of work. The objective of the bell-ringer is to give students a clear understanding of the focus of today's lesson.  I choose to focus on the question "How can Energy be Defined?" because I want students to learn that partial models are still useful for studying and practicing physics.

Identifying Connections between Energy and Physics

15 minutes

At this point in the semester, students have created mind maps to help make their knowledge of a particular topic visible. In this section of the lesson, I give students a focus question, ask them to construct a mind map and then conduct a whole class share out about the connections between energy and physics.

I project the focus question "Can energy be defined?" on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the room and tell students that we will attempt to construct a definition for energy during today's lesson.  I ask students to spend ten minutes creating a mindmap that demonstrates the connection between physic and energy. Students spend ten minutes creating a mind map in their notebooks that illustrate the connections between physics and energy. Click here to see an example of student work. After ten minutes pass, I ask volunteers from around the room to share their responses with the class and I write their responses on the interactive whiteboard as a class summary mind map. Some student responses include, "Energy is the ability to do work", "You need energy to move objects.", and "Energy is in everything." In the next section of the lesson, students construct an explanation of energy using information from class notes and our digital textbook. 

Summarizing and Notetaking in Context

35 minutes

In this section of the lesson, I ask students to construct an explanation of energy using this template and our digital textbook. I distribute a set of graphic organizers that I introduce in an earlier lesson for students to take notes on from our openStax digital textbook on the concept of energy. Students spend the next 20 minutes taking notes by:

  • Writing headings as questions
  • Describing concepts, graphs, charts and tables that are related to understanding the concept of "Energy"
  • Showing the connection between basic physic concepts like position, mass, and velocity to different Energy Transfer Mechanisms

As students are taking notes, I walk around checking in with them. The purpose of this assignment is to have students use information from multiple sources and perspectives, much like scientists construct explanations of complex topics. Students spend 10 minutes discussing their notes with their elbow partners and then making additional notes. Click here for one example of student work. During the last five minutes of this session, I collect the sheets to grade and return to students. Some of the sources include the summaries from this previous lesson, notes, and our openStax digital textbook. This task helps students illustrate the depth of their current understanding of mechanical energy. 


10 minutes

This closure activity this section asks students to create a Frayer Model to answer the question "What is Energy?" Student responses include: "A measure of work", "The ability to do work", "Interactions between matter and fields". I like this activity because students produce a working definition of an important but not well understood physical quantity. I like teaching students that not every concept is well-defined in physics. This helps drive home the idea that physics models get better over time. Click here to see an example of student work.

To wrap up this section of the lesson, I ask students to look at the Minds on Physics modules that I post on the class Edmodo wall for homework I also ask students to share their medal success codes with me by midnight on Thursday morning to meet the HW deadline. Each module has a progress bar and a success bar. As students answer questions correctly their progress bar goes up. If students begin to answer questions incorrectly their health bar decreases. If a student's health bar reaches zero before completing the module they will have to attempt the module again. The content remains constant, but the questions change either in order or phrasing each time a student attempts a module. Once student progress reaches 100% on a module students receive a medal success code.

If a student demonstrates mastery with little to no evidence of stumbling he or she receives a gold medal success code. If a student reaches mastery but stumbles in one or two instances, her or she receives a silver medal success code. Students who receive a silver medal success code are given the opportunity to continue practicing and another attempt to attain a gold medal success code. Students record these alphanumeric codes on a record sheet which correspond to either gold or silver medals on a Minds on Physics module.