Energy Transformation Project - Day 4

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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 documentthat 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.


Energy Path - Sun to Baseball

5 minutes

During the previous lesson, Energy Transformations - Day 3, students took notes on the energy transformations from the presentations of other groups. Now they take that information and create their own flow chart that shows the path that energy takes staring with nuclear fusion at the center of our sun to the kinetic energy of a thrown ball here on Earth.  

I display on the white board Energy path details that informs the students of their task. They must detail the energy transformations that happen from the center of the sun to the baseball and provide a brief description. Other than that, the project is completely open-ended. Students are free to choose how they create their displays, specifically the path they take (the choices are many). One of my reasons for leaving the project open is that I believe student choice to be important in education and I find that this kind of open-ended assignment often results in creative products. The ideas that the students come up with are far more varied than I can imagine.

Students Create Their Energy Path

45 minutes

The room is buzzes with activity as students engage in this assignment. Students grab paper on which to start their energy path, they look through their notes from yesterday's presentation and they turn to a neighbor and begin to talk through how they want to draw their energy path. I love this kind of assignment as there is no single correct answer. Every student has choices to make and decisions on what they want to include and what they want to omit. Because they have to make so many choices, this is a creative exercise and most students like to do this kind of work. 

While students work on this assignment, I circulate the room. I look at student work, comment on their creative ideas and answer questions they might have. I supply colored paper and markers for the students to use, though it is not a requirement that they use them. This is a complex task with no single solution or path, so it is important that I encourage students in their efforts and support their ideas. 

In the last 5 minutes of class, as students are finishing their energy path, I have them write a 3-2-1 on the back of their projects. They write 3 things that they have learned, 2 things that were of interest to them and 1 question they still have. The 3-2-1 is a self-reflection tool for the students to use and also gives me feedback on what they learned. 

We move onto electrostatics for the next unit. For homework, students watch a TED-Ed video on The Size of the Atom. The purpose of the activity is to prepare students for a study of electrostatics which starts with the structure of the atom and sub-atomic particles.