Lesson 4: Energy Efficiency (1 ½ hours)

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Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify and categorize examples of home and school practices as energy conserved or energy wasted as well as changes to energy consumption as behavioral or structural.
  2. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate information about energy efficiency within a building.
  3. Analyze the results of an energy-efficiency scavenger hunt, and identify changes that can be made to make a building more energy-efficient.
  4. Recount that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources, explain why an energy source is labeled as renewable or nonrenewable, and describe how their uses affect the environment.

Language Objective

Students will be able to: Make a claim and support it with evidence and reasoning.

Slides for All Activities

10 minutes

Activity 1: Share about reading the book with families.

Teacher Note: Invite students to respond to questions about their homework. It’s okay if a student has not read with their families; do not single them out or penalize them in any way.

  • What did your family think of the book, The Energy Detectives?
  • How are the homes in the book similar to and different from where you live? What are some different kinds of homes in your neighborhood?
  • How do city homes differ from country homes? What other types of homes can you describe?
  • Did the book inspire you or your family to do anything to conserve more energy at home?
  • Do any of your family members work in the field of energy (e.g. electrician, engineer, energy consultant, technician, gas station attendant, etc.)
Materials & Prep

10 minutes

Activity 2: Make sure students understand what a heat pump is, how it works, and why it is more energy efficient than a traditional HVAC.

  • What is a heat pump?
  • A heat pump is a more energy efficient means of heating and cooling buildings. A heat pump moves warm air rather than changing its temperature. This requires less energy and also is electric, thus it does not rely on fossil fuels to function.
  • Optional: Show students the video about heat pumps, courtesy of PBS NewsHour and YouTube (about 8 minutes).
Materials & Prep

Video about Heat Pumps, courtesy of PBS NewsHour and YouTube


Activity 3: Students develop a better understanding of energy efficiency with a sorting activity.

  • Place examples of home and school practices into “energy conserved**” and “energy wasted*” buckets.
    Option 1: Class of 20 or fewer students. Print and cut one set of cards for the class. Each student gets one or two cards (depending on class size). One at a time, they place their card(s) in a bucket (2 buckets per class) and give a reason for their bucket choice.
    Option 2: Print card sheets, one per pair or small team. Each team of students can cut their own cards (or the teacher can cut in advance). Students work together as a team to place each card in a bucket (2 buckets per team). Then reconvene as a class to go over which cards go in each bucket.
  • Discuss each card as a class so students understand why the card represents energy conserved or energy wasted. If a student places their card in the wrong bucket, help them to understand why.
  • Optional: Further classify the “energy conserved” cards into “behavioral” or “structural” changes.
    • Behavioral changes are changes people make to their actions and habits.
    • Structural changes are changes people make to the actual home or building.
  • Discuss: Which type of change will last longer? Explain your reasoning.
    • Students may argue a claim for either behavioral or structural changes lasting longer, as long as they support their claims with evidence and reasoning. That said, structural changes are changed one time, and the change is permanent and remains in place regardless of who occupies the building. On the other hand, behavioral changes rely on a human to remember and continue to change the habit again and again. Also, if the people in the building change, the habit may disappear.
Materials & Prep
  • Buckets (2 if doing as an entire class or 2 per group if working in teams) / A bucket can be a recycled box or even just a labeled pile on the floor / You also could put tape on the cards, and students could stick them on the white board
  • Bucket Labels
  • Sorting Cards (cardstock recommended if reusing)

15 minutes

Activity 4: Review energy sources with a “Stand by your Choice” activity.

  • The teacher hangs up signs that say “Renewable Energy Source” and “Nonrenewable Energy Source” on two different sides of the classroom.
  • Ask students to turn & talk to review what is meant by the terms “renewable” and “nonrenewable” as well as their meaning for energy sources specifically.
  • In addition to the ability to renew, ask students for a reminder about why else renewable sources of energy are better for our environment.
    • Geothermal, solar, water, and wind are also considered cleaner energies because they do not produce pollution, such as dangerous waste products (nuclear) or excessive amounts of air pollution (coal, natural gas & oil).
    • Teacher Note: Much of the ‘air pollution’ is in the form of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere, which is a good thing, or our planet would be too cold for most living things to survive. However, when too much of these gases are trapping heat, such as due to the amount released from burning fossil fuels, it leads to climate change. Students will learn more about greenhouse gases and climate change in future grades. However, if you feel they are ready for it now, go ahead and discuss it with them!
  • The teacher holds up a sign for each type of energy source (or use the slideshow), one at a time: coal, geothermal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, solar, water, and wind.
  • Students stand by their choice. For example, if the teacher shows them the sign for “geothermal”, and they believe it to be a renewable source of energy, they walk to the side of the room that says “Renewable.”
  • Tell students to turn and talk to a partner to share evidence to support their claim. Then call on a student from each side to share with the class. Challenge them to make an argument persuasive enough to change the minds of students on the other side!
  • Go over correct answers with students:
    • Renewable: Geothermal, Solar, Water, Wind
    • Non-renewable: Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Oil
Materials & Prep
  • Energy Sources “Stand by Your Choice” Signs (recommend printing one set on cardstock and/or using slides to project the different types of energy sources) (one set)

10 minutes

Activity 5: Discussion points prior to students starting the school energy scavenger hunt:

  • What does a sealed door look like? Weather stripping or caulking found along the edges, draft guard along door bottom, etc.
  • What else can you do to find out if a door is sealed? Feel for drafts!
  • How can you read a light bulb label to know if it’s LED? The easiest way to tell if a bulb is an LED is by looking at the wattage – an LED should be under 10W (but sometimes on the packaging it’ll be confusing and say something like “equivalent to 80W”). You can also test by touching the bulb after it’s been on – an LED may be warm, but an incandescent bulb is likely too hot to touch. CFLs may be fairly low as well, but they’ll have the skinny tubes rather than the bulb shape.
  • Insulation will be hard to find even if it is there. Who can you ask about where insulation is located in our school? Typically a custodian or facilities manager is good to ask.

20 minutes

Activity 6: Hunt for energy efficiency in the school building(s).

  • Each student team receives a “School Energy Scavenger Hunt” sheet and a pencil.
  • Review safety guidelines (e.g. where they are and are not allowed to go in the building)
  • Students are told to return to the classroom in 20 minutes (or whatever time you feel makes sense for your students and your school).
Materials & Prep

Per Team:

  • Pencil
  • Clipboard (optional)
  • Magnifying glasses (optional)
  • Timer (optional)

10 minutes

Activity 7: Analyze energy scavenger hunt results.

  • Students share the results of their energy scavenger hunts with each other and suggest solutions for energy being wasted.
    • Prompts to write on the board: How is our school conserving energy? Where is our school wasting energy? What can our school do to improve its energy efficiency?
    • Suggestions to increase participation and equity of voice - Turn & Talk with a partner and/or provide time for students to jot down some ideas (in science notebooks or on scrap paper) before sharing as a class. You also can let them know ahead of time that you will call on them randomly (using popsicle sticks or another method), so they should make sure they are prepared to share their responses.
    • Tell students they will be doing a second energy efficiency scavenger hunt at home with their families
Materials & Prep
  • Science Notebooks

10 minutes

Activity 8: Exit Ticket

  1. Tell students to complete the exit ticket in their science notebooks or on the provided handout.
    1. One example of energy conserved is…
    2. One example of energy wasted is…
    3. One question I have about energy is…
  • Teachers should check exit tickets for student understanding, and use this information as data to inform next steps.
  • Teachers also should check student exit ticket questions, and use those to help guide upcoming lessons. One technique is to post the student questions on chart paper (either re-write them, or paste on the actual exit ticket), and refer back to them at the end of each lesson to see if any have been answered. Some teachers like to categorize student questions. E.g. Questions about “energy conservation” in one category, questions about “energy transfer” in another, etc.
Materials & Prep

10 minutes

Activity 9: Revisit the class RAN chart.

  • Read over the ideas in the first column and move any accurate understandings into the ‘Confirmed’ column and any inaccurate understandings into the ‘Misconceptions’ column.
  • Have students record their new learning and any lingering questions onto sticky notes and post them in the remaining columns.
Materials & Prep

RAN Chart (on chart paper)

Homework: “Home Energy Scavenger Hunt” with families.

  • Recommendation: Photocopy information about heat pumps on the back of the scavenger hunts going home.
  • Teacher Note: Homework discussion prompts are available at the beginning of Lesson 5.
Materials & Prep

* Energy wasted refers to energy leaked, lost or transferred unnecessarily.

** Energy saved refers to energy conserved, hacked or used to its greatest potential. Energy leaks are absent or greatly reduced.