Level II Lessons

Interdisciplinary or General Energy

1. Energy Misconceptions [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After taking a true-false quiz and completing a series of activities focusing on energy concepts, students identify their own previously held misconceptions about energy.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students take a true-false quiz. They read 10 different statements and decide whether the energy concept expressed in each is correctly stated. After completing the quiz, class answers are tabulated but no confirmation is made of what is right or wrong. The quiz papers are handed in. Then students complete a series of energy activities and retake the quiz. The earlier quiz is returned and students review their original answers. They reevaluate each of their responses and make necessary changes. Next, pairs of students compare answers and determine where they agree and disagree. Where there is disagreement, they must reach consensus and decide on one answer. They may use class notes and other references to reach a decision. A new tabulation of answers is made and responses are discussed. At this time the energy concepts are reviewed, along with the reason why each statement is either true or false.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: General Energy, intended for students, grades 6 - 8. May be applied to higher grade levels.

2. Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels [PDF]

Learning Outcome: As the result of participating in a simulation, students realize that global fossil fuel resources are limited.

Lesson Overview: The purpose of this lesson is to make students aware of their dependence on fossil fuels. In the introductory activity not all students are treated equitably to emphasize that fossil fuels are finite resources. Then students are asked to list the external sources of energy used to address everyday needs in their lives.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: Introductory General Energy - Social Studies and courses focused on PV Systems, intended for middle-level.

3. To Go Solar or Not to Go Solar! [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Through conducting research and evaluation, composing a summary, and participating in a role-play of a community meeting, students decide on the feasibility of photovoltaics as an alternative source of energy.

Lesson Overview: This lesson is a role-play that invites students to evaluate the feasibility of installing a photovoltaic system on the roof of a new school being planned for their community. The PV system would supply most or all of the building's electricity requirement. Students research the topic and then each student assumes the role of a specialist having a specific point of view and knowledge base, or the role of a community member. Each specialist prepares a presentation to be made to the class. The community members prepare a list of questions for the specialists and then, depending on their role, prepare a specific type of written summary (newspaper article, letter to a friend, or letter to the editor). Students investigate a topic, evaluate data, determine the validity and reliability of a variety of sources, listen and speak critically, ask questions, and prepare a written report or presentation. To Go Solar or Not to Go Solar! would be a good choice for a collaborative science or technology education with language arts project.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: General Energy, Technology Education, and Language Arts courses, intended for grades 6 - 8.

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4. Energy Conversion Games [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Following participation in a dominoes energy conversion game, students realize that energy in one form, kinetic or potential, can be converted to any other form. They are able to identify energy conversions in life situations and the devices that bring about conversions.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson students become acquainted with the first law of thermodynamics, which concerns the conservation of energy as it is transformed from one form to another. Students gain experience in identifying forms of energy, and devices or processes that transform energy from one form to another, within the context of a game format. Following the game, the teacher introduces the concept that although energy is not really lost, some of the input energy is not always converted into the desired output energy but is "lost" as heat energy.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: General Energy, intended for grades 6 - 8.

5. Energy Resources: Where Are They and How Do We Get Them? [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students describe the many ways solar energy is converted into other forms of energy; the patterns of distribution of energy resources in the United States; and how these patterns of distribution are represented through maps.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, emphasis is on the development of interpretive skills and the use of models to reveal scientific processes. Students learn the nature of various energy resources, how they form, and the science that allows them to be discovered and extracted. Through short laboratory tasks at a series of stations, and through pencil-and-paper activities, solar, wind, water, and fossil fuel (coal) energy sources are explored. The lesson includes study of:

  • field maps, isolines and the information they convey
  • energy conversions of sunlight into other forms of energy
  • subsurface rock structures
  • why energy resources are unevenly distributed

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: General Energy, intended for grades 5 - 8.

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6. Energy Solutions: A Brochure [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students are able to communicate to others the benefits of photovoltaic systems as an alternative source of energy, as evidenced by brochures they develop.

Lesson Overview: This lesson increases student awareness of energy alternatives with a focus on photovoltaic systems. The final product is a collection of informative brochures to be handed out during parent night or at a public meeting. Individuals with little or no knowledge of photovoltaic systems should be able to read any of the brochures and come away with a basic understanding of the need for alternative energy sources and the strengths of PV systems.

A rubric that establishes the criteria to be met is provided. Students are required to use a minimum of four sources and select only relevant material for inclusion in the brochure. The information and graphics must be concisely formatted.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II or III: Language Arts, Art, and General Energy, intended for grades 6 - 8, but can be adapted for higher grade levels.

7. Junior Solar Sprint Series: Gears and Drive Belts [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome:After investigating the mechanical advantages of gear-to-gear, gear-and-chain, and belt-and-pulley systems, students recognize the trade-off between speed and power inherent in these devices.

Lesson Overview: Students evaluate system-and-size ratio combinations and determine which will work best with the solar cell and electrical motor devices used to power their model solar cars.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: General Energy and Technology Education, grades 5 - 8.

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The Physical Setting

Light Energy

8. The Absorption of Solar Energy [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students are able to describe:

  • the subatomic and atomic physical interactions that occur between radiation and matter leading to the absorption of radiation energy
  • the selective interactions between various wavelengths of radiation and the absorbing material
  • the mechanisms of energy transfer and conversion
  • the specific energy transfers occurring during photosynthesis
  • the structure of chlorophyll molecules
  • the location of chlorophyll within chloroplast organelles

In addition, students are able to interact successfully with a simplified model of photosynthesis that explores the relationship between energy transfer and the chemical reactions that produce energy-containing foods in green plants.

Lesson Overview: Three short laboratory activities deal with:

  • physical factors controlling the absorption of solar radiation
  • paper chromatography of the pigments in green plants
  • microscopic examination of plant cells and chloroplasts

Students investigate:

  • absorption of solar energy and mechanisms and physical phenomena that make absorption possible
  • factors that control physical interactions between electromagnetic radiation and the materials that radiation encounters

Students focus on the following topics:

  • electromagnetic spectrum
  • atomic and subatomic interactions that comprise absorption
  • gradational difference between transparency and opaqueness
  • energy absorptions that do and do not convert to heat energy transfers and increased temperature
  • transfer of that energy within the chloroplasts and the eventual increase in chemical bonding energy within food molecules (A pencil-and-paper model of photosynthesis helps students identify the location and nature of solar energy absorption.)

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Living Environment and Physical Setting, intended as an enrichment experience for grades 5 - 8, but also appropriate for use at higher grade levels.

9. How Photocells Work [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Following participation in a game, students are able to relate how electrons are energized in a photovoltaic cell and pass through a circuit to provide energy that runs an appliance.

Lesson Overview: In the context of a game format, students learn how photovoltaic cells work. Students are exposed to the p-n junction between two types of semiconductors and learn how it relates to the production of electricity in a photovoltaic cell.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting and Technology Education, intended for grades 6 - 8.

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10. Solar Energy in New York [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students understand that even though New York State is not considered a Sunbelt location, enough solar energy is available this far north and through the cloud cover to provide sufficient energy to meet our electrical needs. An appreciation is gained of the amount of surface area required.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students examine a variety of data including scientific data, such as insulation data for New York State, and economic/political data, such as tax credits. The purpose of the activity is for students to decide for themselves if increasing the amount of energy from photovoltaic systems would be a wise investment in New York State.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Science and/or Social Studies, intended for grades 6 - 8.

Electric Energy

11. Junior Solar Sprint Series: Electrical Power [PDF]

Learning Outcome: Students are able to describe how photovoltaic cells produce electricity, what voltage and amperage are, and how each relates to electric power. They know how to arrange PV cells in series and parallel circuits and show how doing so changes the voltage and amperage output.

Lesson Overview: Students read about how photovoltaic cells produce electricity. After using parallel and series electrical circuits to see how to increase the electrical power of solar cells, they develop testable hypotheses and design laboratory investigations. They use instruments (ammeters and voltmeters) and mathematical formulas as they explore what electrical power means . Finally, they examine their school's solar collector to determine how the solar cells are arranged to produce electrical output.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting and Technology Education, intended for grades 5 - 8.

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12. The Chemistry of Refining Crude Oil [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students come to view energy from several viewpoints. They work with the processes of:

  • phase changes and the many energy transformations and transfers involved in that physical change
  • chemical change and the energy it releases

Lesson Overview: The fractional distillation of crude oil is featured. This major fossil fuel of the modern age is viewed as an example of stored chemical energy. Alcohol and water are separated and recaptured by taking advantage of the differences in the two substances' boiling points. The many components of crude oil explored and students are introduced to organic chemical formulas, characteristics of changes in phases, and laboratory distillation procedures.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting and Technology Education, intended for grades 5 - 8.


13. Junior Solar Sprint Series: Angle/Energy Amount [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Following experiences with a solar panel, students are able to make an informed decision as to whether to incorporate a photovoltaic device into their car design in order to adjust to the position of the Sun in the sky.

Lesson Overview: Students observe how changing the angle of the solar panel in relationship to the Sun changes the intensity of sunlight and affects the amount of electrical output from the solar panel. [Those students and schools planning on participating in the Junior Solar Sprint competition will need to develop some means of incorporating a mechanism into their car design which will allow them to adjust to the Sun's position in the sky at the time of day the competition is run.] This activity will foster students' understanding of this critical consideration for the race and in a broader sense, underscore the effect of changing sunlight intensities on everyday activities.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting and Technology Education, intended for grades 5 - 8.

14. Energy for Earth: The Sun [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: Students describe the production of energy within the Sun, citing the process of nuclear fusion; describe the transfer of that energy by convection and radiation to the surface of the Sun; and explain how that energy is finally released to space by the process of radiation.

Lesson Overview: The production of energy within the Sun and the transfer of that energy from the Sun through space to Earth is explored through modeling and laboratory work. In addition to learning what energy is and how it is transformed, students focus on the production of, and the nature of, radiation.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for grades 5 - 8.

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The Atmosphere

15. Junior Solar Sprint Series: During what part of the day can the most Sun power be collected? [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After observing solar power changes on a flat solar panel, students are able to describe the relationship between panel position and power output.

Lesson Overview: Students go outside to make direct but safe observations of the Sun. They note the position of the Sun in the sky and determine how that position relates to Sun power as collected on a flat (horizontal) solar panel. Concurrently, students review understandings of the Sun and Earth: the size and shape of the Sun, the shape of Earth, the Sun-to-Earth distance and the relationship of that distance to the shape of Earth's orbit. They also review/preview certain weather information.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Physical Setting, intended for grades 5 - 8.

Living Environment

Plant and Animal Adaptations

16. Heating and Cooling a Really Large Lizard [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After experimenting with a light source and a thermometer mounted on a card, students are able to relate card position to temperature changes and use that information to infer similar results for the positioning of photovoltaic panels on roofs.

Lesson Overview: This lesson investigates the effect of temperature on cold-blooded animals, using dinosaurs as the model organism. Students use a 5 x 8 inch index card to represent a dinosaur. By inserting a thermometer in the card, students are able to measure temperature changes associated with positioning the card at different angles to a light source. The importance of maintaining an appropriate body temperature in order to regulate the organism's metabolic rate is included.

After completing the "dino card" portion of the activity, students apply what they have learned to the functioning of the school's photovoltaic panel.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Living Environment, intended for grades 5 - 6.

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17. Leaves: All-Natural Solar Collectors [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After handling leaves and determining leaf surface areas, students are able to make good inferences having to do with leaf form and function. Many of these inferences can then be applied to the functioning of photovoltaic panels.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students closely examine tree leaves and identify adaptations present for collecting light energy. First, students outline five different leaves on graph paper. Then they count the number of squares each leaf covers. This procedure provides students with a numerical representation of relative surface area. These figures are compared and students are asked to describe other adaptations that enhance the amount of energy capture/photosynthesis a leaf/plant can carry out. Students relate how various environmental factors have influenced the evolution of plant leaf adaptations. Students begin to consider leaf form and function.

Students are asked to transfer what they have learned about how leaves collect light energy and convert it to chemical energy to how the school's solar panel collects light energy and converts it to electrical energy.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Living Environment and Mathematics, intended for grades 5 - 8.

18. Leaves, the Sun, and the Water Cycle [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After conducting transpiration investigations using twigs having a set number of leaves, and checking the effect of variables on relevant solar panel output using the DAS, students are able to cite factors influencing the rate of water loss from a plant and determine whether these same factors affect PV output.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students investigate transpiration and its role in the water cycle . Mathematics and science skills are used in determining how much water per unit of surface area evaporates out of a leaf during a 24-hour period. Both the influence of light on transpiration and the role of the Sun in the water cycle are investigated.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Living Environment and Mathematics, intended for grades 7-8.

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Environmental Considerations

19. What Is pH and Why Is It Important? [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After using pH paper to test common household liquids and soluble solids, researching acid deposition, and checking the DAS avoided emissions data, students are able to explain the comparative relationship of fossil fuels and PV systems to acid deposition.

Lesson Overview: Students learn about acids, bases, and pH and relate this knowledge to the problem of acid deposition. Using pH paper, they test common household substances to determine whether they are acidic, basic, or neutral. They are also asked to consider how using photovoltaic panels to generate electricity can reduce the amount of acid deposition.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Environmental Considerations, intended for grades 5 - 6. Can be used as an introductory lesson for SPN lesson #20 - Using Environmental Models to Determine the Effect of Acid Rain on an Ecosystem.

20. Using Environmental Models to Determine the Effect of Acid Rain on an Ecosystem [PDF][DOC]

Learning Outcome: After completing a reading on acid precipitation and pH, and conducting small-scale investigations of the effect of acid on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, students are able to predict the environmental effects of acid precipitation.

Lesson Overview: In this lesson, students select one of two questions associated with acid precipitation and design an experiment that addresses a question. Students complete a short reading that provides background information on acid precipitation and pH. They also conduct a literature search to find out more about acid precipitation. In addition to designing a controlled experiment, students become involved in the process of modeling. They use small containers to represent ecosystems, and manipulate a single variable in order to determine its impact. By using multiple, small setups, students predict what is likely to happen on a larger scale in the environment.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Environmental Considerations, intended for grades 7-8.

21. An Environmental Puzzle: The Carbon Cycle [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After completing readings on our ultimate energy source and on how photosynthesis relates to the energy requirements of both plants and animals, students work out relationships present in a carbon dioxide puzzle. Accordingly, students are able to describe the operation of the oxygen - carbon dioxide cycle and relate the use of alternative forms of energy to maintaining levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Lesson Overview: This lesson provides an overview of how respiration and photosynthesis cycle carbon through ecosystems. The background reading describes the role of the Sun as Earth's ultimate energy source and explains how the energy requirements of plants and animals are met through photosynthesis. The presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is due to the photosynthetic activity of both prehistoric and present-day plants. As a result of burning fossil fuels, humans are not only adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere but also depleting the supply of oxygen.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Environmental Considerations, intended for grades 6 - 8.

22. The Greenhouse Effect [PDF] [DOC]

Learning Outcome: After participating in a greenhouse simulation and plotting carbon dioxide levels representing over 250 years, students are able to cite evidence of the increase of that gas and suggest ways that levels might be decreased.

Lesson Overview:The greenhouse effect and the consequences of unchecked levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are concepts addressed in this activity. After developing some background knowledge, students conduct a hands-on greenhouse simulation using ice cubes, sealable sandwich bags, and a light source. Then students plot a graph of carbon dioxide levels to illustrate the increase that has occurred over the last 250 years.

Students address ways carbon dioxide levels might be decreased. One option is the use of alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic systems. The photovoltaic panel monitor provides data regarding the amount of carbon dioxide that would have been put into the atmosphere if fossil fuels had been used to generate the same amount of electricity.

Grade-Level Appropriateness: Level II: Environmental Considerations, intended for grades 6 - 8.

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