Energy Literacy Video Series and Social Studies Lessons

The Department of Energy (DOE), along with the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), the Center for Geoscience and Society and the National Center for Science Education have completed an Energy Literacy Video Series to accompany the DOE’s Energy Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Energy Education. This framework cites seven essential principles and fundamental concepts for teaching energy and each of the seven principles is now summarized in a 4-6 minute video! The video series is also available in Spanish through the DOE’s YouTube channel. There is a teacher guide and student analysis guide to accompany the video series  and the Energy Literacy Quick Start Guide for Educators will help you find additional resources for integrating energy literacy concepts into instruction.

In addition to the video series, AGI has developed a social studies lesson for each of the seven principles outlined in the Energy Literacy Framework.  These lessons are geared towards grades 9-12 students and are aligned to the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards.

Principle 1:
How should the United States deal with nuclear waste?

Principle 2:
How has water shaped human settlement?

Principle 3:
Where does our food come from?

Principle 4:
Analyzing U.S. energy infrastructure: Where does electricity come from?

Principle 5:
Should the U.S. Government subsidize specific energy initiatives?

Principle 6:
How much energy do I need?

Principle 7:
How does transportation impact the environment?


An Engineering Exploration Challenge from National Geographic

Students love hands-on activities and always enjoy a friendly competition. I just came across this  energy-related STEM challenge from National Geographic’s Center for Geo-education that I am going to try with students this summer.  Students are asked to use the National Geographic Engineering Process to “design, build, and test a wearable power-source that generates 1 watt of electricity.” There is a workbook for use with younger students and a handout for use with older students both of which are intended to guide the students through the engineering process. In addition, there is an  Educator Tool Kit which includes a list of suggested materials to get students started on this challenge (see challenge #3 on pages 7 and 8).

This challenge was one of three during the 2014 Engineering Exploration Challenge.  Let’s keep an eye out for the 2015 Engineering Exploration Challenge to see if any will be related to energy!


New Energy Literacy Video Series

Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)  launched a new Climate Education and Literacy Initiative to “help connect American students and citizens with the best-available,  science-based information about climate change.” The OSTP acknowledged a number of “commitments” made by Federal agencies and others to this initiative which included a commitment to enhance energy literacy.

In recognition of this commitment, the Department of Energy (DOE), along with the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), announced an Energy Literacy Video Series to accompany the Energy Literacy Framework. This framework cites seven essential principles and fundamental concepts for teaching energy and each of the first four principles is now summarized in a 4-6 minute video. Videos for the final three essential  principles  are expected by September 2015.

Below are the first four essential principles in the framework which is also available in Spanish:


You may also be interested in the five minute TED-Ed video, “A Guide to the Energy of the Earth,” which shows the 7 essential principles in action.

Understanding the Grid| Infographic from the Dept of Energy

I missed #GridWeek on which occurred Nov 17-21, 2014. The intent of this social media event was to give the US Department of Energy an outlet for highlighting “some of the exciting progress in transforming our nation’s power grid into a system that is more resilient, reliable and better able to meet the changing demands of our 21st century society.”

Check out the #GridWeek infographic titled Understanding the Grid which not only outlines how electricity gets from a power plant to your home but also features grid innovations (smart meters, energy storage, microgrids) and the job opportunities available in the power grid sector as the current workforce retires and as new technologies become adopted.

Here are a few other related resources from the Department of Energy:

How Energy Works: Explaining Game-Changing Energy Technologies
Microgrids, particle accelerators, 3D printers and wind turbines

How microgrids work

Smart meters and a smarter grid

Energy storage and the grid

Top 9 Things You Didn’t Know About America’s Power Grid



Announcing an Interactive Energy Game from the US EPA

The US EPA has just released an interactive board game developed by physical scientist Rebecca Dodder, PhD, in collaboration with classroom teachers and others at the EPA, and this is a game that teachers are going to love incorporating into their instruction!  The Generate! Game lets participants engage in friendly competition while conducting a  simulation that enables them to examine the costs and benefits of using varied fossil and renewable energy sources to power their electrical grid.

Each team is given a game board which represents their power grid.  Every team has same size grid and thus can generate the same total amount of energy, but teams do not have the same mix of energy sources. Each team assembles a portfolio of energy sources for their grid under constraints provided by the facilitator – which group can come up with the least expensive energy portfolio?  Which group can come up with a portfolio that generates the least amount carbon dioxide emissions? Which energy portfolio utilizes the least amount of water and would presumably be more resilient during a drought?  How does the addition of energy efficiency measures impact costs? emissions?Game-in-playI have seen this game played numerous times, both with high school students and teachers and it is always well received. In fact, most people want to keep playing the game as each round brings an improved understanding of the kinds of decisions that must be taken into account when choosing which energy sources will be used to provide electricity. This game is a very effective instructional tool that cultivates critical thinking about the energy sources used to generate electricity both now and in the future.

Materials for making your own Generate! game are now available along with a PowerPoint slide set for introducing the game to students and a teacher’s guide for both middle school and high school teachers. Once you conduct this game with students, you will find that students are more prepared to thoughtfully engage in a discussion about the future of electricity generation and to grapple “with the complexities of our energy challenges.”

Have fun!


Two Solar Energy Lessons from My NASA Data

I think it is great when students can interact with real data as this brings not only relevance to an activity but also enables them to practice the skills required to analyze and interpret data.

These two solar-energy related lessons from NASA utilize satellite data from the MY NASA DATA Live Access Server (LAS).  The LAS contains over 149 parameters in atmospheric and earth science from five NASA scientific projects and enables teachers to create their own data microsets that also take into account geographic location (latitude and longitude). While easy to use, I would get familiar with this tool first; a tutorial is available on the LAS home page.

Think GREEN – Utilizing Renewable Solar Energy
In this lesson, students analyze line plots that are generated using satellite data to determine the average monthly amount of solar energy received by their region and assess the impact of clouds on the amount of solar energy received.  Students practice constructing and interpreting graphs and evaluate the solar energy potential for their region.

Solar Cell Energy Availability From Around the Country
In this lesson, students analyze incoming solar radiation graphs for the country to determine the areas of the country that have the greatest solar energy potential. To conclude the activity, each student explores where in the US they would choose to live if solar energy was to power their home.


A nice companion activity for either lesson would be to have your students create sun charts for their region and/or the regions they are comparing.


The Growth of the Solar Industry in North Carolina

I asked my colleague Steve Wall, Policy Research Associate at the UNC Institute for the Environment, to reflect on the growth of solar in NC and to give you ideas of places where you can go to learn more.

North Carolina has long been recognized as a national leader in a number of economic sectors, from biotechnology to agricultural to tourism. The emergence of the solar industry in the state means that North Carolina can now stake a claim to being a national leader in renewable energy. Just last week Duke Energy announced that it will be investing $500 million in solar projects across the state in coming years.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association North Carolina was ranked third in the country for the amount of solar installed in 2013. As the recent announcement by Duke Energy illustrates, solar development appears to be on a path to continue this strong growth. Primarily the growth in the solar industry across the state has developed through the construction of large solar farms rather than conventional rooftop solar on homes and businesses.

The success of the solar industry in North Carolina leads to the question of how did the state best known for basketball and barbeque become a national player in solar development? There are many factors that go into answering that question. However, one critical factor assisting in the solar industry’s remarkable rise is the foundation of state policy.

When North Carolina lawmakers adopted a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (REPS) in 2007, it became the first state in the Southeast to have such a law. The REPS requires that the utility companies in North Carolina produce a certain amount of their electricity from renewable resources. The law also required that a certain percentage of the renewable generation come from solar—a provision deemed the solar set-aside. Teachers: Have your students learn more about the NC REPS and identify what other “renewable resources” can be utilized to meet its mandates. The Citizen’s Guide to the REPS from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association is a good place to start.

The increasing amount of solar development across North Carolina has not come without some controversy. In some instances, local governments, community groups, and individual landowners have expressed concerns about the impacts of solar farms. Some of the concerns include potential impact on property values, taking agricultural land out of production, and aesthetics. Faculty at the UNC School of Government released a report earlier this year to help guide local government leaders to ensure that the siting of solar farms is done in a responsible manner. Teachers: Have your students explore whether there are any solar farms (click here for a summary of Duke Energy Renewables’ commercial solar farms) in your region and whether there was any opposition to their construction. Internet research and local newspapers may be the best resources for this exercise.

The recent surge of solar development in North Carolina appears likely to continue into the foreseeable future. The long-term success of the industry remains reliant on sound policies as well as addressing issues raised by local communities where these facilities are sited. If state and local officials fail to recognize the economic value of these new industry and choose to back away from the current policies that have made the state a national leader, the Palmetto state has passed a new law that shows it is willing to take North Carolina’s place.

Teachers: For more information on solar and renewable energy policies in North Carolina and across the country the North Carolina Clean Technology Center is a great resource!


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