Alternative Energy Research Project & Presentation

Eleanor Camann, Red Rocks Community College
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This is a research project for an Environmental Geology class, in which each student selects or is assigned a type of alternative energy to investigate. The project culminates in a 10-15 minute class presentation with accompanying written abstract.

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Learning Goals

  • Research a type of alternative energy and thoroughly describe: the basics of the science and technology involved; in what ways and to what extent it is currently being used; hurdles to wider adoption; specific noteworthy projects that make use of the energy; and benefits and drawbacks of its use as compared to traditional energy sources.
  • Identify and synthesize information from reliable science-based sources.
  • Form and defend a data-based opinion about the viability of the alternative energy being investigated.
  • Create an effective, organized, PowerPoint presentation with strong visuals.
  • Give an engaging oral presentation with minimal use of notes or other written materials.
  • Produce a well-written scientific abstract following accepted guidelines.

Context for Use

This activity was designed for use in an introductory-level Environmental Geology course. However, it would also be appropriate for other intro-level science courses such as Environmental Science or Physical Geology, and could be modified to be used in higher-level classes. It is a long project worked on throughout the semester. Students will need to know how to use PowerPoint and have basic research skills. By the time the final product is due, they will have already completed most of the course content. I typically give out the instructions in the first week of classes, have students select their topics in the second week, and check progress occasionally. About midway through the course we use an hour or so of class time to complete a "how to write an abstract" class activity. The final presentations, toward the end of the semester, require 10-15 minutes per student (as the assignment is currently written), although this could be shortened or group presentations or papers could be assigned in lieu of individual presentations for larger class sizes.

Description and Teaching Materials

Before students are given this assignment, we have a class discussion on the limitations of fossil fuels, including sustainability issues. We then talk about the need for alternatives. This "hook" helps them to see why this is an important subject to learn more about.

The attached pdf, which is given to the students, includes the detailed instructions for the assignment and a rubric for grading.

Alternative Energy Research Project (Acrobat (PDF) 213kB Nov4 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I strongly recommend taking a lot of time to go over the expectations of the assignment - especially proper citations, required presentation style, deadlines, and what an abstract is and how to write one. I usually do a class activity in which I have each person read a different short article/explanation from the internet about how to write a good scientific abstract, then have them come up with a list of guidelines to follow as a class. I also have students write a draft of their abstract for peer and instructor review a couple of weeks before the final one is due.

I have only given this assignment to small classes (less than 20 students). It would need to be modified (perhaps having students work in pairs or trios, or write a paper rather than give a talk) for larger classes in order to avoid taking an inordinate amount of class time for the presentations.


I use the rubric in the attached document above to evaluate the projects.

References and Resources