Lesson 6: Energy-Efficient Model Home

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Energy Detectives - Build energy-efficient model homes

(2 ½ to 3 ½ hours over several days)

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Define a problem related to energy efficiency, and design an energy-efficient model home to demonstrate a solution.
  2. Think critically and apply what they learned about energy transfer, energy conservation, and sustainability to their model home design.
  3. Evaluate relevant design features that must be considered in building an energy-efficient model home as a solution to a given design problem.
  4. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem of energy-efficiency based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Language Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Provide feedback that contains content specific vocabulary through a conversation with a peer.
  2. Support a claim with evidence and reasoning.

Slides for All Activities

30 minutes

Activity 1: Introduce the energy-efficient model home engineering challenge

  • Teacher Script: “For Charlie and Annabeth's next science assignment, Mrs. Gagnon has invited the students to design an energy efficient home. This time, you're included in the challenge! Join Charlie and Annabeth as they set out to design the most energy efficient home. Your home must have the following requirements…”
  • Share model home requirements with students, either in the slideshow or on the board:
    • Door that opens & closes
    • Two see-through windows
    • Insulation, siding, etc. that limits energy transfer
    • Upgraded energy-efficient appliances and heating/cooling
    • Natural resource for energy
    • Name & decorate your model home
  • Assign student teams. We recommend teams of 2-3 students, 4 students max. However, this will also depend on availability of materials and teacher discretion.
  • Student teams brainstorm and plan their energy efficient model home designs in science notebooks or on the provided handout (or virtually using a program like Minecraft).
Materials & Prep


  • Minecraft or Minecraft for Education - if this is something you are comfortable with, you can offer students virtual energy-efficient model home design as an option

20 minutes

Activity 2: Peer Feedback

  • Pair up groups to share design plans and give feedback on each others’ ideas.
  • Students can write feedback for themselves in their science notebooks and/or students can write feedback for others on the provided “TAG Peer Feedback” handout.
  • About 5 to 10 minutes per group pairing.
Materials & Prep
  • Science Notebooks


10 minutes

Activity 3: Redesign

  • Give time for students to modify their designs based on peer feedback.
Materials & Prep

1 - 2 hours

Activity 4: Build energy-efficient model homes.

  • Students build using cardboard boxes and other available materials.
  • To save time, standardize sizes, and prioritize safety, we recommend the teacher use a box cutter to cut windows (10 cm x 10 cm) and doors (10 x 20 cm) into the boxes prior to giving boxes to students. If you prefer students cut their own, scissors are more difficult but should be fine as well. See this video from the NEED project for suggestions.
  • Stress to students the importance of measuring and using only what they need. One of their goals should be to waste as little materials as possible. Contractors and builders do this both for cost-savings and sustainability purposes.
  • Create a system for students to return materials that still can be used, and show them what to do with items that no longer can be used (trash or recycle).
Materials & Prep

Per Team:
Model Home Requirements

  • PDF
  • Canva template
  • Cardboard box (recommended size: 9” x 9” x 9” or similar)
  • Scissors (sharp)
  • Permanent marker
  • Ruler
  • Weather strips
  • Plastic film
  • Tape (masking, clear, electrical, duct, decorative, etc.)
  • Cotton batting or old clothing
  • Other

Important note: The best materials are upcycled, free or cheap! Send a request out to families for supplies. For example, old jeans and t-shirts can be used for insulation, and single-use plastic water bottles can be cut and used for siding! Many delivery boxes usually are a good size.

The NEED House Energy project: If your school has funding available, you can purchase kits for $35 per kit plus shipping.

20 minutes

Activity 5: Conclusion

Students respond to conclusion questions in their science notebooks or on the provided “Model Home Conclusion” handout.

  1. Is your model home energy-efficient? Explain why or why not by supporting your claim with evidence.
  2. What can you change to make your model home more energy-efficient?

Encourage students to inspect the model homes of other teams in order to get ideas for improving their own designs.

Optional Extension Questions

  • How do we know if our model home is limiting energy transfer? How could we test our model home’s energy efficiency? Recommended format:  think-pair-share
Materials & Prep
  • Completed model home (per team)
  • Science Notebooks or Model Home Conclusion

10 minutes

Activity 6: 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)