Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Physics is Phun! Studying Energy in Your Classroom

Our discussion of Leonardo da Vinci last week started a great dialog about how to create well-rounded students who are willing and motivated to learn in all different subject areas. I think Kelly Tenkely stated it perfectly in her blog, Dreams of Education, “True learners are multidimensional, they are passionately curious about the world around them.” As we shift gears this week to discuss physics resources, we want to be sure the resources we present are in line with this goal of creating passionate, curious learners throughout the grades. The NEED Project fits the bill with their physics resources that look at the subject of energy through many different lenses, including language arts, drama, music, and math.

What do you remember most about your high school physics class? Do you have painful memories of endless equation memorization and pencil-and-paper problem solving, or did you have a teacher that took a more hands-on approach? Now that many of us are in our teacher’s shoes, we are in charge of creating classes that will equip students with the skills they will need to be inquisitive problem solvers throughout their lives. We want students to look back upon our classes with fond memories as they move forward in life with the kind of curiosity that led Leonardo da Vinci to make some amazing discoveries.

Most students won’t come to your class with a natural curiosity about every subject they need to learn. Often, they are not really interested in subjects they can’t connect to the “real world.” It is up to you to inspire this inquisitiveness with activities that challenge them to question things happening in the world around them. This type of curiosity isn’t only required in upper-level science classes. It needs to be fostered from the early grades on.

Where would physics activities fit into your classroom? Students are constantly exposed to the topic of alternate energy sources, energy conservation, and petroleum dependence in the media, so studying energy can be a great way to introduce physics to even the youngest students. For an example of how to do this, look at The NEED Project’s “Energy on Stage,” a set of energy plays you can use with primary and secondary students. These plays are a creative outlet for students and they bring the topics and ideas of energy and its many different sources to students in a unique way. The NEED Project also created an activity called “Transportation Fuels Rock Performances,” where students write and perform rock songs about alternate transportation fuels. Who knows…maybe you’ll find the next American Idol! I especially liked these two resources since they bring some of the fine arts into the classroom that many of our students are missing with cutbacks in programs like music and drama.

The NEED Project also has some groups of activities that can be implemented over a series of lessons. “Fossil Fuels to Products” presents petroleum and natural gas energy sources from their exploration to their final products using hands-on activities with ties to social studies, language arts, and technology. “Wind For Schools” brings in the discussion of alternate energy sources and lets students use actual data from wind turbines, a great real world experience for students and teachers.

These are just four examples that show the diversity of resources you can find on the Project NEED website ( I spoke with one physics teacher who is on the Teacher Advisory Board for the project, and she had lots of wonderful things to say about the project and their quality activities. She told me that the NEED Project has been around for 30 years and continues to improve and design activities and curriculum related to energy. Their Teacher Advisory Board heavily influences the project. The activities are designed for teachers, which makes them a great fit for The Gateway to 21st Century Skills.

The NEED Project is hosting summer workshops, including their national workshop in Denver in July. If you apply for this, sponsors could support your participation. If you look at their website, you might even find a workshop closer to home. You can keep track of their events on their Facebook Page as well. (

Whether you are a new or seasoned teacher, it is easy to feel alone, especially when you are struggling to present a new topic in a fun and exciting way. Finding new activities like these might be just the support you need to unlock curiosity in some of your hard to reach students and students that display the type of curiosity of da Vinci. Whenever you are looking for new resources to use, be sure to search The Gateway. We will continue the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to join us there.

~Peggy's Corner - 2/10/2011~

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