Archive for the 'Lessons and Activities' Category

New Energy Education Newsletter from the US Department of Energy

picture_0With the 2016-2017 school year now underway, I wanted to be sure you knew about a new resource from the US Department of Energy’s – a monthly electronic newsletter titled STEM Spark  – that will highlight energy technologies, energy education resources, career information and competitions for K-12 and higher education audiences.

The August 2016 newsletter is devoted to the topic of wind energy.

Click here to subscribe to the monthly newsletter.

American Geoscience Institute’s Critical Issues Program

I recently learned about the American Geoscience Institute’s (AGI) Critical Issues Program, a “portal to decision-relevant, impartial, expert information from across the geosciences.”  This website is a potential place to look when you are searching for information related to issues at the intersection of geoscience and society, including energy, climate, water, mineral resources and natural hazards. In fact,writing that last sentence also made me think of  recent commentary I read titled “Why I am a geoscientist” in which the author, Erig Riggs, PhD, states that he loves being a geoscientist because it is an “area of science so directly relevant to the public.”

Energy topics covered include coal, geothermal energy, hydraulic fracturing, mineral resources, nuclear energy, oil and gas and renewable energy. The “Basics” section for each energy topic includes a brief summary that also describes why this topic matters to society and that explains how geoscience informs decisions about the particular topic.  The “Learn More” section includes links to introductory resources, frequently asked questions, related maps and visualizations along with references.  Resources featured come from the US Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Geological Society of America, The National Academies and USGS and others.

Furthermore, AGI offers three earth science focused activities aligned to the Common Core English Language Arts standards and the Next Generation Science Standards that can be used to prepare grades 6-12 students to read and evaluate informational text.

Want to learn more? Check out AGI’s Center for Geoscience and Society.


Duke Energy 2050 Vision | Online Challenge

I recently learned about this interactive online “Energy Challenge” by Duke Energy where users create a plan to meet the energy demand of  a carbon constrained world in the year 2050. Duke Energy aggregated data from across its entire U.S. service territory and created a visual representation of its service area and power generating facilities which sets the stage for the user who is tasked with making choices about how to meet a growing energy demand while working towards CO2 reduction goals.  Choices that can be made by the user include: building new power plants, including solar and wind farms, upgrading existing power plants to produce more energy, retrofitting existing plants to reduce emissions, closing inefficient power plants and implementing energy efficiency programs.


As users make decisions, such as retiring a set of aging coal plants or adding a wind farm, they get instant feedback regarding cost (in billions of dollars), impact on CO2 emissions (tons per year) and the extent to which their plan meets the predicted energy demand for the year 2050.  The energy demand meter displayed on the right side of the screen makes it easy to visually monitor the extent to which a decision helps to meet energy demand and the extent to which this demand is met through non-renewable energy sources, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

Duke Energy intends for this tool to “demonstrate the trade-offs and cost implications of choosing an energy generation mix that will meet future energy demand while minimizing CO2 emissions and keeping costs as low as possible.” I could easily see small groups of students competing to see which group can come up with a strategy that reduces CO2 emissions, meets projected energy demand for 2050 and costs the least amount of money.

To learn more about the game, click here.

One Indiana science teacher created a worksheet to accompany this game that could be used with your students.

If you have your students play this game, please share your experience by leaving a comment!



U.S. Department of Energy BioenergizeME Infographic Challenge

FirstPlaceI recently learned about the U.S. Department of Energy BioenergizeME Infographic Challenge when they announced their 2016 Infographic challenge theme: Exploring the Future American Energy Landscape.  They are asking 9th- through 12th-grade student teams to use technology to research, interpret, apply, and then design an infographic that responds to one of four cross-curricular bioenergy topics:

Bioenergy History
Workforce and Education

Science and Technology
Environmental Impacts

Even better, the Energy Department and the Library of Congress have provided all of the tools necessary to integrate this challenge into your curriculum or offer it as an after-school activity!

BioenergizeME Toolkit

BioenergizeME Research Strategy Guide

BioenergizeME Resource Library

To be considered for the competition, infographics must be submitted by March 4, 2016.

Check out the 2015 winning infographics on cellulosic ethanol (see above), algae and algae biofuel. One NC teacher is already planning to incorporate these winning infographics into her AP Environmental Science class by having her students review and critique the infographics to decide which of the three they would fund for further development.


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!


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!


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