'Energy’ is an abstract idea and hard to define. Students often use the word in a variety of everyday contexts and in a way which differs from the scientific use of the word.
A good understanding of students' misconceptions is therefore needed before planning a scheme of work on this topic. For information on some of the ideas students can bring to the classroom, and which can often prove difficult to address, you may find pages 13-14 in the National Strategies publication 'Strengthening Teaching and Learning of Energy' useful.
This is a great topic for practical work and many of the resources in this list provide ideas for hands-on activities. The areas of the 2014 curriculum covered include:
• internal energy stored in materials
• other processes that involve energy transfer: changing motion, dropping an object, completing an electrical circuit, stretching a spring, metabolism of food, burning fuels
Heat transfer and thermal equilibrium are dealt with in a separate list, to view this list click here.
Links and Resources
Activity one from this booklet would make a good introductory lesson to this topic. A whole series of mini experiments are undertaken with the aim of finding out what connects them all.
However, the resource is a little dated and now the experiments are probably best carried out as whole class activities with volunteer students making the measurements etc. If the teacher gives instructions, there is no need for a printed student instruction sheet. The teacher can also oversee the health and safety aspects satisfactorily and lead/prompt student discussion and questions. To preserve the "mystery" of what connects them all, teachers should be careful not to use the word “energy”
The follow up work uses money as a good analogy for energy. However, the worksheet is likely to need re-writing to bring it up to date –it’s probably not a good idea to refer to housewives these days!
Here’s a whole set of resources from the Institute of Physics (IOP) on the topic of energy specifically designed for Key Stage Three students. You can find the classroom activities which look at energy transfers in the Teaching Approaches section labelled 'shifting energy'. The Physics Narrative section and the Teaching and Leaning notes will be particularly appreciated by those teaching outside of their specialism.
As you might expect from the IOP, this is a well thought out scheme which develops and challenges student’s ideas as it is worked through, as well as providing an excellent self-study CPD resource for teachers.
A circus of activities can be an engaging way for students to explore a range of processes that involve energy transfers. In this list we've picked out some demonstrations which can be used to capture students' interest before they investigate other examples.
This is a visually stunning way to demonstrate the transfer of chemical energy to light energy. Be sure to dim the lights for the full effect!
This is an exciting demonstration of the transfer of chemical energy to sound energy. The oxidisation of hydrogen peroxide using ethanol and potassium permanganate produces a sound like cannon fire.
This dramatic demonstration shows how mechanical work can be used to produce heat energy, in fact enough energy to start a fire. Following on from a lesson about work, challenge students to see if they can explain how it works.
Teachers will find the two explanations given very useful and they could use either or both with their students depending on ability and age.
Fire pistons are available to purchase from the usual scientific suppliers if your school doesn’t have one. Alternatively, you will find instructions for building your own via an internet search engine
Find out if you could be a Kung Fu expert. This is a great idea for a practical lesson. By dropping masses, students first find out the energy required to break a board. They then work out whether their moving hand has enough energy to match or exceed this – if so then, theoretically at least, they could break the board with their bare hand.
It’s a very engaging lesson and there's physics developed along the way, including plenty of opportunities for calculations. What's not to like?
Practical tips: Instead of a ticker timer, students could measure the speed of their hand directly using a light gate. Get them to hold a piece of black card vertically in their hand and then pass it through the sensor as quickly as possible. They can measure the width of the card more easily than they can measure the width of their hand, and if the card should happen to hit the sensor it will do less damage (and hurt less!) than a hand.
If you wanted to measure the mass of students' hands more directly it could be done by displacing water in a Eureka can (1cm3 of water = 1g).
Actually breaking the board would make a memorable end to the lesson – any black belts out there prepared to give it a go?
This is a comprehensive package of resources from the Science Enhancement Project (SEP) designed to support teachers through the whole topic of energy. It provides an excellent model for the concept of energy and uses energy meters to make the concept more concrete for students. The SEP energy meter is available at reasonable cost from Mindsets : http://www.mindsetsonline.co.uk/product_info.php?products_id=1398, as indeed is all the equipment referred to in the booklet.
The first student activity, A1 Getting to Know the Joule, provides a good foundation for all the work that follows and includes some useful graphical work. Teachers should note that the concept of power (activity A2) is not included in the Key Stage Three curriculum.
Activities B1 and B2 involve measuring the energy consumption of household objects and are recommended. All the activities are supported by student worksheets and presentations. Some activities have accompanying spreadsheets which teachers will find useful. By typing in different figures, students will be able to see, for example, the costs of running different appliances or the savings made by turning machines off standby.
Those teaching outside of their specialism will appreciate the overview of the topic provided at the front of the booklet.
A further set of presentations and animations which support this work are to be found in the resource below.
This resource uses dye as a model for energy. There are some good ideas for practical work and a set of animations which will aid explanations. Even if you don’t use the suggested practical work, the animations could be used to support the teaching of energy transfers in any lesson and would be helpful in conjunction with the resource above