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Topics

  • Climate Science
  • Sustainability

Competencies

  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • Technology
  • Data Analysis

Renewing Hope: Analyzing Renewable Energy Data

Created by: Jennifer LeBlanc
Date: Aug 12, 2021
Duration: 100 minutes
Grades: 6th, 7th, 8th
Subjects: Science, Math
Keywords: Renewable energy, climate science, data analysis, energy conversions
Format: Google Docs
Synopsis

In this lesson, students refresh their knowledge of renewable energy sources while working to improve their data analysis skills, build their research skills, and learn about engineering design. 


Step 1 - Inquire: Students watch Growing Appetites, Dwindling Resources and The Solutions | Our Climate Our Future, Chapter 8


Step 2 - Investigate: Students analyze data about energy sources and use from the Energy Information Administration. 


Step 3 - Inspire: Students engineer a solar over to further understand the renewable power of the sun and learn about the engineering design cycle.


Accompanying Teaching Materials:

Inquire
10 minutes

Students watch and discuss. 

Investigate
45 minutes

Students analyze data to understand fossil fuel consumption vs renewable energy consumption. 

Students research their own city to understand the major energy sources used in their city (Optional depending on time)

  • Students research their own city and figure out where their electricity is coming from. Key questions include: What type of resource is mostly being consumed? Is it renewable or nonrenewable? Does the city have plans to increase renewable sources of energy? 

Extension: Students examine the politics that influence the use of renewable energy. 

  • Example note: Texas has its own grid system separate from the rest of the nation. That in itself is a political decision. In February of 2021, the grid in Texas had major failures due to freezing temperature which is considered extreme weather for Texas. Many cities were left without electricity for days. Politics ramped up quickly and there was some blame put on renewable sources of energy like wind turbines. Some said the wind turbines and renewables failed in this weather because they froze up. The reality is, wind turbines are used all over the world in places with freezing temperatures. Also, wind makes up a very small amount of total energy source in Texas. The Texas grid was not prepared (winterized) for freezing temperatures because temperatures that low are rare in Texas and it is very expensive to winterize. The politics behind this is now many are pushing for Texas to reduce its renewable energy infrastructure because according to some it is “not dependable.” Note petroleum is one of the leading pillars of the economy in Texas. Students could research this example or any other example and find articles that support each side of the debate.
Inspire
45 minutes

Students engineer a solar cooker to further understand the power of the sun. 

  • Teacher transitions by stating: “From our data analysis we see there is hope in renewable energy. Our nation is slowly trending towards using more renewable energy each year. Overall there is one concern holding back many renewable energy options; storage! Storing renewable energy is tricky and engineers are trying to solve this every day. Let's watch this short video and find out more.” 
  • Students watch Solving the Storage Problem 
  • Teacher transitions by stating: “Now that we know engineers are working to solve the storage problems let's explore the engineering process and the power of the sun. The Sun’s radiant energy is used as a renewable energy source for solar panels. Additionally, the Sun’s radiant energy can also be harnessed for thermal energy which can be used for many purposes. In the next activity, you will work in small groups to engineer a solar oven that harnesses the Sun’s energy!” 
  • Students complete the Here Comes the Solar Oven activity. This activity can take 45 minutes or 90 minutes. It just depends on how much build time you decide to give them. Also depends on if you allow a rebuild and a re-test. 

Non-lab option- Students research and write. 

  • Students research the pros and cons of renewable energy. To help students begin their research they can use the resource linked here How Renewables Work: A Practical Guide to Solar, Wind, and Geothermal
  • Then the students research possible solutions to the cons. 
  • Finally, students write a letter to local energy officials urging more use of renewable energy resources in their city.
Teaching Tips

Positives

  • This lesson follows the NGSS cross cutting concept Influence of Science, Engineering and Technology on Society and the Natural World. Specifically related to “the uses of technologies and any limitation on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions. Thus technology use varies from region to region and over time” (NGSS).

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should have background knowledge of energy. For example, why we use energy for electricity and powering transportation. Additionally, they should know how electricity is generated. The “Inquire” videos will help refresh the students' background knowledge regarding energy use. 

  • Students should have some previous knowledge of renewable and nonrenewable resources from elementary school (4th Grade NGSS). Specifically the following standard: NGSS - 4-ESS3-1.Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment. [Clarification Statement: Examples of renewable energy resources could include wind energy, water behind dams, and sunlight; non-renewable energy resources are fossil fuels and fissile materials. Examples of environmental effects could include loss of habitat due to dams, loss of habitat due to surface mining, and air pollution from burning of fossil fuels.]

Differentiation

  • There is a non-lab research-based option for the Inspire section. 

  • For the data analysis, you can print the charts and graphs and highlight the key data that needs to be found. 
  • The questions from the Student Analysis Sheet can be copied and put into an interactive board to make it a whole group activity. For example, Jamboard or Peardeck are great interactive whole group forums.
Standards
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • PS3: Energy
      • MS-PS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.*
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.*
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-4 Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

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