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Converting Energy

Grades: 5-8
Author: Tess Ewart


Module Description

As a result of this presenter-conducted module, participants will use internet resources and hands-on activities to define "energy" and how it can be measured through energy transformations. Participants will discuss safety considerations for lab activities. Participants will design a lesson that uses inquiry-based internet resources to use in their classroom.


  • Participants will define energy.
  • Participants will trace energy transformations.
  • Participants will design and implement in their classrooms a lesson that uses inquiry-based internet resources.


Computers with internet access

Lesson Plan Template

Apron and Goggles for each participant

From the ORC lesson plan #3459:

  • Converting Energy student E-Sheet
  • Heat Experiment student sheet (
  • Beakers or glass baking cups**
  • Alcohol thermometers**
  • Heat source: votive candles, small hot plates or electric immersion heaters**
  • Two chairs per group
  • Masking tape
  • Yard or meter sticks
  • 3 shooter marbles
  • 8' strip of vinyl ceiling molding

** - See Safety/Disposal section


**This professional development module is based on the Ohio Resource Center lesson #3459 and therefore contains the lesson plan as found on the ORC web site. The module writer acknowledges the scholarly work of the lesson plan author and does not claim any connection to the writing of the lesson plan. **

Engagement (motivation)

Introduce the investigation by letting [participants] use their Converting Energy student E-Sheet to explore Building a Better Pyramid on the Atoms Family website, which is part of the Science Learning Network. In this online activity, [participants] explore energy conservation by adding insulation to the pyramid. Once [participants] have done the online activity, discuss with them what they discovered about insulation, especially how many layers would be the most efficient and why. You could ask them questions like these:

  • What happens when you add one layer of insulation to the pyramid?

(The temperature inside the pyramid goes down.)

  • What happens when you add two layers? How about three, four, and five layers?

(With each layer of insulation added, the temperature inside the pyramid gets lower.)

  • Is there a point where it doesn't seem beneficial to add more layers?

(The temperature decrease becomes smaller with the additional layers added. Eventually, the temperature decrease from the additional layer is very small. Since the temperature decrease is so small, it may not be worth the cost to add another layer of insulation.)

Assessment: Participants' answers to pyramid insulation questions.

Exploration (development)

Then have [participants] go to Raceways where they can explore various forms of energy and may be a good way to provide a context for [participant] thinking on potential and kinetic energy. Have [participants] do the activity. Discussion of the questions found on the site will take place under the Explanation section.

Assessment: Participants' activity results.


Tell the participants, "Energy can be a difficult concept because we use the word so often in so many different ways in everyday life that it seems like a familiar concept. The familiarity is an advantage in getting a discussion of energy started, but can get in the way of deciding on a definition that can lead to experimental measurements and testing of ideas about energy."

Have [participants] read the introduction and first chapter of The Energy Story, an online book found on the Energy Quest website; it consists of 15 brief chapters that focus on a variety of energy topics such as electricity, hydropower, and fossil fuels. The presenter may choose to jigsaw this activity.

To focus [participant] attention on the ideas in the related benchmarks, ask them to jot down notes as they read, based on these questions:

  1. What is "energy"?

(Energy is the ability to do work.)

  1. Is there more than one kind of energy?

(Yes, Ask participants to come up with several kinds of energy as examples of what energy is. Make a list of [participants]' ideas of energy types. Some examples are listed below:

  • heat (warming a house, warming up liquids such as water)
  • mechanical work (moving things around)
  • electrical (lighting, cooking, lightning)
  • chemical (burning in engines, explosions)
  • light (solar cells and solar heating)
  • nuclear (power plants, atomic bombs)
  1. Can one kind of energy be changed into another?

(Yes, see Explanation section.)

When all participants have finished reading, ask them to answer the three focus questions. The presenter may choose to do a think-pair-share strategy for this discussion.

The ideas about interconversion of one form of energy into another will be implicit and explicit in [participant] examples and discussion. Tell the participants,"In the example list generated, we can have the conversion of light energy into electrical energy in solar cells and light energy into heat energy in solar heating. What are some other conversions?" Get them to come up with as many as possible. Try to steer the [participant] discussion toward the idea that all the kinds of energy they can describe and name can be converted into heat (to warm something up) and/or mechanical work (to move objects around). Work can also be converted to heat (rub your hands together briskly and feel the heat created by friction) and heat to work (in engines). We usually like to think about heat and mechanical work a bit separately, because work represents directed energy and heat is undirected. (At the molecular level, heat energy causes random molecular motion to speed up, but doesn't affect the randomness.) When [participants] are satisfied that all the kinds of energy they know about can be converted to heat and/or mechanical work, they have as good an idea of what energy "is" as they need.

Assessment: Participant energy conversion examples and discussion.

Engagement 2

The discussion of forms of energy and their interconversion should lead to a further discussion of how energy can be measured. The objective is not to determine a numerical value for an input of energy to a system. Rather, [participants] should be thinking about how they could tell whether a different amount of energy is input one way or another. Tell the participants, "Any kind of energy can be converted to heat energy that can be detected by warming things up. What will be warmed up and how will we know it has been warmed? "

Have the [participants] discuss readily available, safe, and easy-to-handle substances to be warmed as well as how to detect the warming. Water probably will be among the substances suggested. Its advantages are accessibility and low cost, as well as ease of measurement of warming with a thermometer or sensor immersed in the liquid. Ask the participants to come up with safety considerations for the materials they are selecting for experimentation. Discuss as a group these safety considerations. See Safety/Disposal section for safety precautions.

Assessment: Participants' discussion on energy.

Exploration 2

Hand out the Heat Experiment student sheet. Divide [participants] into groups and provide each group with two glass beakers and a heating source. [Participants] should fill each beaker with different amounts of water. Let them decide how much water to use in each beaker but be sure that they measure and record the amounts on their student sheets. Then, [participants] should heat the water for a set amount of time, say 10 minutes. Again, [participants] can determine the amount of time so long as they record it.

Allow [participants] to vary their experiments by trying different amounts of water, different temperatures, etc.

Among the questions the [participants] need to explore experimentally are:

  • Does it matter how much water is used?
  • Does it matter what temperature the water is?
  • Do different amounts of energy have different effects?

Assessment: Participants' activity results.


  • Have participants discuss ways that they could use internet resources and inquiry in their classroom settings. Internet resources that give background information and/or data tables, but do not have the audience focused on exploration activities or problem solving may be valuable teacher-tools. These types of resources are not the focus in this module and should be avoided as the central element of the teachers' planning of this classroom implementation activity. See the extensions for some suggestions of appropriate sites.
  • Participants should complete a lesson plan template for a lesson that addresses grade level content indicators and involves internet resources and inquiry for use in their classroom. See Lesson Plan Template handout.

Further and on-going collaboration among participants should be encouraged.


Our society is developing new technology constantly, and one can particularly argue for the inclusion of computers and multimedia tools into classrooms on the simple justification of student literacy. A more powerful reason is that it provides teachers and students with tools to enhance learning in the traditional content areas.

Inquiry is the most abstract yet most scientific of all of the best practices in science. Inquiry is a method of approaching problems that is used by professional scientists but is helpful to anyone who scientifically addresses matters encountered in everyday life. Inquiry is based on the formation of hypotheses and theories and on the collection of relevant evidence. There is no set order to the steps involved in inquiry, but children need to use logic to devise their research questions, analyze their data, and make predictions. When using the inquiry methods of investigation, children learn that authorities can be wrong and that any question is reasonable.

The most abstract component of inquiry is imagination. Both students and professional scientists have to be able to look at scientific information and data in a creative way. This unconventional vision allows them to see patterns that might not otherwise be obvious.

Teachers can incorporate inquiry approaches to learning, for example, by allowing small groups of students to explore a particular natural phenomenon that might exhibit certain trends or patterns. The children can then reconvene as a class, discuss their observations, and compile a list of several different hypotheses from this discussion. Each group can choose a hypothesis to investigate. Several groups might choose to replicate the same study to reduce the bias effects of any one group's techniques. Depending on their age, children might design their own experimental apparatus, use probes attached to computers, or employ sophisticated software to analyze data or create charts and graphs. Data based predictions can be the foundation for further investigation.

Science Standards

NSES CONTENT STANDARD A: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding of the following Science as Inquiry topics:

  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.

NSES CONTENT STANDARD B: As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding of the following Physical Science Transfer of Energy topics:

  • Energy is a property of many substances and is associated with heat, light, electricity, mechanical motion, sound, nuclei, and the nature of a chemical. Energy is transferred in many ways.

NETS #3 :Technology productivity tools

  • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.

NETS #5 :Technology research tools

  • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD A: Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

  • Involve teachers in actively investigating phenomena that can be studied scientifically, interpreting results, and making sense of findings consistent with currently accepted scientific understanding.
  • Address issues, events, problems, or topics significant in science and of interest to participants.
  • Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge.
  • Build on the teacher's current science understanding, ability, and attitudes.
  • Incorporate ongoing reflection on the process and outcomes of understanding science through inquiry.
  • Encourage and support teachers in efforts to collaborate.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD B: Professional development for teachers of science requires integrating knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students; it also requires applying that knowledge to science teaching. Learning experiences for teachers of science must:

  • Connect and integrate all pertinent aspects of science and science education.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Technology
  • Inquiry

Time Frame

1 - 2 hours


Notify the participants in advance to bring their curriculum guide/map or textbook to facilitate their development of an implementation plan.

Preview all websites to be sure delivery is well-informed and runs smoothly.


  • Any glassware that breaks during the activities should be swept up using a broom and dust pan. Never pick up broken glass with your hands! The broken glassware should be discarded in a specially marked receptacle.
  • Strong consideration should be given to using open flame with students. Be sure to use tongs or mitts when handling glassware that has been heated. Aprons and goggles should be worn when heating materials in glassware. Long hair should be tied back; long pants and closed toe shoes should be worn. Long sleeves should be rolled up or pushed back.
  • An alternative to using alcohol thermometers that are made of glass in lab activities would be to use temperature probes or sensors.
  • Participants should be cautioned before task and instructed to wash their hands after completing the task.
  • Be careful!
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science investigations.


Assessments can be found at the end of each learning cycle stage. For an overall assessment, use the assessment that is found on the ORC website as shown below.

Assessment from the Ohio Resource Center Lesson #3459:

Middle-school students may think of energy as something that makes things happen and then is expended in the process. Students may not think of energy as measurable and quantifiable. After this investigation, for example, students should understand that some of the heat energy used to warm the water was transferred to the water, but also that some of the heat energy was transferred to the room air. To make sure that students understand this, have them make drawings of their investigations that show what happened to the heat energy.

Explanation of Science

In science, energy is defined as the ability to work. Energy is all around us in various forms. Those forms will be explored in this module. An energy conversion occurs when any form of energy is converted into another form or forms of energy. For example, when you use a hammer to pound a nail into a piece of wood, you transfer kinetic energy to the hammer; the hammer transfers kinetic energy to the nail. However, some of that kinetic energy from the hammer is converted into sound energy and heat or thermal energy. You can trace the energy conversions even further by tracing the conversions that took place to give you the kinetic energy you transferred to the hammer.


None available for this module.


Extensions from the Ohio Resource Center Lesson #3459:

Explore other parts of the Atoms Family website, such as The Wolfman's Ghostly Graveyard, where students can learn about fuel conservation and energy transfer.

Investigating Wind Energy, a Franklin Institute contribution to the Science Learning Network, is a series of four inquiry-based activities that provides a framework for investigating the effects of wind and the energy of wind. The first activity offers open-ended exploration of wind's effects on objects. The next activities build on the early exploration, with students building windmill blades to demonstrate their notions of wind. Finally, kinetic energy becomes mechanical when students actually use their windmill to do work. A related page, Current Creations, provides a forum for your students to post their own original work that demonstrates their understanding of wind energy.

Poor Richard's Energy Almanac on the Energy Quest site provides an interesting comparison of energy used in homes during Benjamin Franklin's time and the energy we use in homes today. Also on Energy Quest, Super Scientists, A Gallery of Energy Pioneers contains brief biographies and historical photographs of some of the men and women who contributed to our understanding.

On the Exploratorium Science Snacks, the activity called Solar Brightness shows you how to make a photometer which can be used to compare the brightness of the sun to the brightness of a lamp.

Lesson Implementation Template

Download Lesson Implementation Template: Word Document or PDF File


Issues to consider are the following: seating so everyone can see the display, make sure every person participates in discussions, and grouping with diversity in mind.


None available for this module.