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Energy flows

NEED Project - Putting Energy into Education

This activity introduces students to different forms of energy, energy transformations, energy storage, and the flow of energy through systems. Students learn that most energy can be traced back to nuclear fusion on the sun.

Activity takes one to two 45-minute class periods. Additional materials necessary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»


Global Energy Balance
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Carbon Cycle
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Solar Radiation
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Fossil Fuels
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Energy Infrastructure
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Grade Level

Middle (6-8)
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Activity is written for middle school students, but can be modified for younger high school students or high school inclusion/special education class.

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Sunlight warms the planet
About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1a
Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d

Energy Literacy

Energy comes in different forms and can be divided into categories.
Other materials addressing:
1.5 Forms of energy.
Fossil and bio fuels are organic matter that contain energy captured from sunlight.
Other materials addressing:
4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
Electricity is usually generated in one of two ways.
Other materials addressing:
4.5 Electricity generation.
Sunlight, gravitational potential, decay of radioactive isotopes, and rotation of the Earth are the major sources of energy driving physical processes on Earth.
Other materials addressing:
2.2 Sources of energy on Earth.
Water plays a major role in the storage and transfer of energy in the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.4 Water stores and transfers energy.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
Other materials addressing:
B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
Other materials addressing:
C) Energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
Other materials addressing:
D) Flow of matter and energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
Other materials addressing:
A) Human/environment interactions.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The card activity can be done kinesthetically or also in small groups at a desk or table. The order of the cards should reflect real-world connections.
  • Coal fired power plants are not the only source of electricity generation in the U.S. (only 50-60%); find out what the primary source of electricity generation is your state or county and modify the activity.

About the Science

  • Students learn about forms of potential and kinetic energy, differentiate between energy flows in a battery-powered flashlight and a hand-generated flashlight, learn about the energy transformations in fusion, photosynthesis, coal formation, and a coal-fired power plant, and learn about the similarities between the formation of fossil fuels.
  • The content and connections are simplified but correct.

About the Pedagogy

  • Excellent visual materials that can be used with great success with students who are English language learners and also in special education or collaborative/inclusion classrooms.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Clear, well-written, easy-to-follow instructions for educator.
  • Handouts and copies of transparencies are provided and are ready to be used.

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