Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You Got the Power

Every once in a while, the topic of American dependence on oil rears its head, is hotly discussed and debated by politicians and the media, and then recedes into the background. The current civil unrest in Egypt has once again prompted discussion as to the grave economic, political, and environmental challenges caused by the U.S.’s reliance on oil and other fossil fuels. Despite the warning bells that have been sounding for decades, the U.S. has been slow to rigorously explore and fund alternative sources of energy. Perhaps the recent increased attention to global warming and the high costs of petroleum-based energies will further spur development of other types of fuel sources.

Fortunately, students today are much more environmentally conscious than those even a decade ago, and are keenly interested in alternative technologies to produce energy that could reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Kids are often introduced to the intricacies of energy and how it works through hands-on activities and well-planned lessons at school. Energy can be a slippery notion for some to grasp – it’s dynamic and fluid, and it can’t be created or destroyed, but instead transforms from one form to another. Nothing can happen without energy, and it’s a concept that is found in every branch of science, from biology to earth science to physics and so forth. Energy is about change and making things happen. It’s often confused with power, which measures the work done, or how quickly energy transformations occur. Once students have grasped the main tenets of energy and how it works, they can be turned loose to plan and perhaps develop their own ideas for energy technologies.

Educating students about energy teaches them about the idea of transformation and change, as energy intrinsically changes from one form to another. But the theme of change by way of energy can be expanded externally as well, as kids explore and brainstorm ways that energy can enact social change in the form of newer, more efficient energy technologies. New types of technology and new ways of applying existing energy technologies are always fun to explore in the classroom, and some products in development may surprise you. For example, I read of a current project to develop roads implanted with solar panels in order to melt snow, which frankly, can’t happen fast enough for me. This type of idea may initially sound far-fetched, but it and other nascent energy technologies are actual products in development with exciting possibilities.

The resources that I’ve selected this week focus on energy and force, two concepts that produce change. Each resource was created by The NEED Project, a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting energy consciousness and education. The NEED Project was launched in 1980 with a physics teacher from New York at its helm, and it works to bring balanced energy programs and curricular materials to U.S. schools. All of The NEED Project’s lessons are aligned to national education standards, and each unit contains a teacher’s guide as well as several labs and hands-on activities for students. I hope you enjoy them. As always, we’ll be featuring additional resources on energy and force throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to check those as well.

Exploring Magnets
Subjects: Physical sciences
Grade: 1-4
Students explore the concepts of atoms and magnetic force with a variety of magnets and experiments, making predictions, recording observations and data, and drawing conclusions. The unit includes teacher demonstrations and center-based explorations for students.

Science of Energy
Subjects: Physical science
Grade: 5-8
In this unit, students learn about the different forms and sources of energy, how it is stored, transformed, and what it enables us to do. Students will also trace the energy flow of a system.

Secondary Science of Energy
Subjects: Physical science
Grade: 9-12
This unit explores the various forms and sources of energy, the main things that energy enables us to do, and how energy is stored. Students will also explain energy transformations and trace the energy flow of a system. The unit includes a teacher demonstration and six lab stations

~Joann's Picks - 2/10/20100~

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