Curriculum Units

Three short (3-5 session) curriculum units include first-hand, guided explorations where students learn to describe energy in everyday phenomena. Beginning with easily observable phenomena, such as ball collisions, students look for signs of energy, create and use representations, and discuss their questions and findings. They develop the practice of asking, “Where does the energy come from?” and “Where does the energy go?” and learn to track the flow of energy in increasingly complex scenarios.

Introductory Sequence: Motion Energy and Elastic Energy

Photograph of two boys rolling a ball.

This sequence of five investigations focuses on motion energy and provides foundational ideas that prepare students for moving on to sequences that address electrical energy, and thermal energy and energy in the environment. A short video collage and discussion elicit students’ initial ideas about energy. Students explore rolling and colliding balls on a track. They investigate a springboard and pompom and a propeller and elastic band system and they become familiar with The Energy Tracking Lens – habits of minds that help them describe everyday phenomena in terms of energy. This sequence serves as an introduction to the other sequences, Thermal Energy and Energy in Electrical Circuits.

Thermal Energy

Photograph of a student and rocks.

The thermal energy sequence of three activities follows the introductory Motion/Elastic energy sequence. In this unit, students continue to develop the habits of mind of the energy tracking lens as they investigate flow of thermal energy to and from cups of water, using the same language and representations they met in the introductory motion unit. They collect temperature data and reason about increases and decreases of thermal energy and transfer between materials and to the environment.

Energy in Electrical Circuits

Photograph of a teacher and student.

In this unit, students continue using the same language and representations of the Energy Tracking Lens in a new context: electrical circuits. Students explore multiple ways (hand-crank generator, solar panel, capacitor, battery) to transfer energy to a red wheel. They apply their ideas about energy to windmills and energy storage.