Teaching about Energy

By Beckrich, Amanda | The Science Teacher, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Teaching about Energy


Beckrich, Amanda, The Science Teacher


Winter is the perfect time to get students thinking about their energy use and introduce them to conservation methods. Students can monitor the energy use of a classroom appliance and even compete in a nationwide energy conservation challenge! Read on for more ways to educate students about energy and conservation this time of year.

Calculations and labs

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's website (see "On the web") offers energy basics, lesson plans, and low-tech lab activities for teachers. To start, have your students collect energy-use data from classroom equipment and perform simple calculations. Many energy monitors are commercially available--they connect to appliances and read their electrical consumption by kilowatt-hour on an LCD (liquid crystal display).

Using these meters, students can calculate energy unit conversions or determine school electrical expenses. An interesting extension is to compare an appliance's electrical consumption in different modes. For example, have students compare a computer's energy usage when it is on, off, and asleep. Multiply the results to determine daily, monthly, or even yearly energy consumption. You may be surprised by the results!

Students can also perform a National Earth Science Teachers Association lab (see "On the web") that connects energy consumption to carbon-dioxide production. If students use an energy meter that measures voltage and current thousands of times a second, they can "see the surge" of power when an appliance is first turned on.

Energy audit

Perhaps you want to move beyond studying classroom appliances and have students perform home or school energy audits. Consultants perform audits like these at great cost to families, businesses, and schools around the world, so having your students perform at least part of this task makes curricular, environmental, and financial sense. An energy audit extends beyond monitoring electricity usage and allows students to design and implement a specific conservation plan to reduce the amount of electricity used and money spent. The Environmental Literacy Council offers a well-planned home energy audit, modifiable for use in school (see "On the web").

Interschool energy conservation challenge

How about competing against other schools to reduce your energy consumption?

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