Students will investigate a variety of renewable energy resources, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each.
In this lesson, students will use Internet resources to investigate renewable sources of energy. The students should already have a basic understanding of energy, and know several examples of renewable and nonrenewable sources.
It's important to be aware of common misconceptions associated with energy. For example, students believe energy is associated only with humans or movement, is a fuel-like quantity which is used up, or is something that makes things happen that is expended in the process. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 338.) Although students typically hold these meanings for energy at all ages, upper elementary-school students tend to associate energy only with living things, in particular with growing, fitness, exercise, and food. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 338.) In addition to not readily understanding the conservation of energy, students do not understand that once energy is converted, it is not necessarily in a usable form.
This lesson is designed to help students investigate and evaluate renewable energy sources. Most students can name several renewable resources, but have little understanding of them. It's important for students to examine controversial issues associated with renewable energy sources from multiple perspectives; by exploring benefits, drawbacks, and social ramifications, students will develop a deeper appreciation for these complex issues.
- Gather resources for student research, including reviewing the websites suggested in the Development.
- Determine due dates for various steps of the lesson, if possible.
Ask the following questions in order to review basic ideas and find out what students already know about renewable and nonrenewable energy sources. Be sure to determine if students hold any misconceptions.
- Is there more than one source of energy?
- What are some sources of energy?
- What is meant by a renewable energy source? What are some examples?
- What is meant by a nonrenewable energy source? What are some examples?
- Discuss major differences between nonrenewable and renewable/alternative energy sources.
- Do you know of any places where renewable/alternative energy sources are regularly being used?
Let students know that they will focus on renewable/alternative energy sources in this lesson.
Have students go to the California and Renewables: FAQs site and read these two articles:
- What are the environmental benefits of renewable energy?
- How much would it cost a household to do renewable energy?
After students have read these sections, ask them questions such as:
- Why do these reports suggest that communities should begin to look at alternative energy resources?
- There were seven sources of energy described on this site. What are they?
- What are the benefits of using renewable energy technologies?
- Why aren't some renewable resources widely accepted today?
- Which energy resource is cheaper in the short run? In the long run?
- What is meant by the terms "environmental costs" and "social costs"? What are some examples of each?
Divide students into teams of four or five. Each team will be responsible for researching one of the following: Solar; Wind; Geothermal; Biomass; or Hydropower systems.
Distribute the Renewable Energy Resources student sheet and explain the entire scope of the lesson to students. Explain the final product (the vote), as well as all steps leading up to that. Be sure that the due dates are clear and recorded on the student sheets. If they aren't known yet, be sure to remind students to record them as they are determined.
In their research, students could use any of the following online resources, as well as any others you find appropriate. They also could use print resources available in the classroom or library.
- Renewable Energy, part of Energy Kid's Page from the Department of Energy, offers a basic introduction to each energy resource.
- Renewable Energy Basics provides more in-depth information.
- Energy Story has a chapter devoted to each type of renewable energy.
- The U.S. Department of Energy's Frequently Asked Questions page allows students with specific questions to contact specialists from the Energy Information Administration by using a tool found on the right side of the page near the middle (students will have to scroll down the page).
As outlined on the student sheet, after students have finished their research and one-page summaries, they should present their findings to the class. They could use PowerPoint, Excel, or other creative presentation formats.
At appropriate times during the presentations, lead discussions to help the rest of the class process the information and compare the benefits and the drawbacks of each type of resource. Ask questions such as:
- What are the potential impacts of the different types of energy?
- What are the benefits of each?
- What are the drawbacks of each?
- Are there any environmental impacts from the different types of energy?
- Are there economic impacts from the different types of energy?
- What sort of social issues impact the use of alternative sources of energy?
- What is the greatest factor that has kept alternative energy sources from being universally accepted/adopted?
As stated on the Renewable Energy Resources activity sheet, students will write a "community news article" in which they choose the type of alternative energy they feel would be the easiest to implement in widespread use. They should use persuasive writing in an attempt to be a community advocate; they will ultimately try to persuade other members of the community to adopt this alternative energy source. Students should defend their choice using information learned in this lesson (in their research, if applicable, and other student presentations). They should address social impacts, costs, and environmental impacts. Be sure that the expectations for this letter are clear; you may wish to use a rubric that clearly states the guidelines.
Then, hold a mock town-hall meeting in which students are advocates for particular energy sources. Structure this activity to suit the needs of your class. It could be a quick activity, or one for which the students make posters, flyers, and dress in costume. Have students discuss and debate the various alternative energy sources, and at the end, hold a class vote to determine what type of alternative energy is to be adopted by the town.
Have the students go to Energy Quest's Experiment with Water to Produce Energy to design their own water wheel. They can experiment with the number of blades, the size of blades, the speed of running water, and the size of the wheel.
Students can share their findings on renewable energy with a local congressperson via e-mail. If they don't know the address, they can find it by going to the United States House of Representatives site and using the tool found near the middle of the page.
Students can further research the benefits and limitations of renewable alternative energy sources at the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network site. This site lays out the different types of renewable energy in a short but succinct style that will appeal to many students.