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We've Got The PowerWeve-Got-The-Power

  • Subject: Physical Science
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Power can be generated in a variety of ways.
2. Each method has its economic, environmental, and physical advantages and disadvantages.
3. Different methods of power production are supported by different groups of people.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on power production
Computer with Internet access


1. Ask your students to imagine that their classroom is a new community being established in an undeveloped, relatively wild part of the country. Discuss with the class some of the ways their new community might generate power: coal, oil, gas, hydroelectric power, geothermal power, nuclear power, solar power, wind.
2. Continue the discussion by having students cite some of the economic, environmental, and physical advantages and disadvantages of some of the power-production methods just mentioned.
3. Divide your class into small groups, and assign each group to research one of the power-production methods discussed, with the goal of discovering its economic, environmental, and physical advantages and disadvantages.
4. After the research is complete, have each team present an argument for its method of power production. Team members should represent the interests of business owners, families, environmentalists, and power company employees when presenting their arguments. They should also be prepared to discuss the safety concerns of each form of power production and the efficiency of the energy produced.
5. When all presentations have been made, allow time for discussion of the various merits and flaws of the arguments.
6. Ask the class to vote on which source of power they will use.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students write paragraphs explaining how the power production methods they have studied actually work.

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Discussion Questions

1. Describe the various processes involved in using turbine generators to create power.
2. Brainstorm a list of examples of machines that use turbine generators to create power, then compare the energy efficiency of these machines and discuss how they might work more efficiently to prevent heat loss.
3. Where is the closest power station to your school, and how does it make electricity? Debate whether your community should be doing anything differently to generate power.
4. Imagine conducting an "energy audit" of your home and school. Develop a list of ways that you might be able to save power in both locations.

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You can evaluate your students on their presentations using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: arguments cover economic, environmental, and physical advantages and disadvantages of the power-production method; arguments represent the interests of business owners, families, environmentalists, and power company employees; arguments cover safety concerns of and evaluate efficiency of the energy produced; arguments are logical and well organized
  • Two points: only some of the advantages and disadvantages of the power-production method are covered; arguments fail to represent one or more of the groups indicated by the assignment; arguments fail to cover safety concerns or efficiency; arguments are logical and well organized
  • One point: few of the advantages and disadvantages of the power-production method are covered; arguments fail to represent most of the groups indicated by the assignment; arguments fail to cover safety concerns and efficiency; arguments poorly organized
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by reviewing the points each argument should make, according to the assignment.

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Do-It-Yourself Electromagnet
A magnetic field is created when an electric current flows through a wire. A single wire does not produce a strong magnetic field, but a coiled wire around an iron core does. An electric generator uses just such magnetic forces to make electricity—a process that students can demonstrate easily in the lab. Divide your class into groups, and provide each group with the following equipment: a battery, a length of wire, a compass, and a few nails and paper clips. Students should first attach one end of their wire to the end of a battery holder. Next, ask them to carefully attach the other end of the wire to the other end of the battery, and then observe the strength of the magnetic field generated by observing whether the compass still points to true north when held next to the wire or whether the wire exerts any magnetic force on a paper clip. Next, ask students to bend their wire into a series of coils before attaching it (both ends) to the battery, and then to repeat their observations of the wire's magnetic field. Has it grown stronger? They might want to vary the number and size of the coils in their wire, repeating their observations each time. (Smaller coils will produce a stronger field, as will greater numbers of coils.) Finally, ask them to coil their wire around an iron nail before they attach it to the battery, and then to make their observations again. (They will find that the iron nail further increases the strength of the magnetic field.) When all of their experiments are complete, ask them to explain their findings in writing, and then to speculate about how such electromagnets might be used on a larger scale.

Michael Faraday's Experiment
In the 1830s, Michael Faraday performed an experiment that led him to discover that rotating a magnet inside a coiled wire produces an electric current in the wire. That knowledge is still used to produce electrical energy in power plants today. Have students research the life of this important scientist and describe, in detail, the experiment he performed that led to his important discovery.

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Suggested Readings

Renewables Are Ready: People Creating Renewable Energy Solutions
Nancy Cole and P.J. Skerrett. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1995.
This grassroots guide provides case studies of successful projects using alternative energy sources as well as suggestions for making them work in a local community. Cases include streetlights powered by river turbines, homes built for solar heating, and a high school heated by wood chips. The appendix contains alternate energy sources, costs of fossil fuels, and a list of organizations to contact for future research.

Fuels for the Future
Steve Parker. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1998.
This book provides a clear, simplified overview of fuels currently available for use as well as potential energy resources for the future. Additional features include a glossary, index, and bibliography citing books, organizations, and Web sites with additional information.

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Explore the basic physics of electric power generation with this hands on virtual lab on the generation of electric current through a conductor as it moves through a magnetic field.

The Energy Story
Text and pictures at this web site provide a great introduction to the study of energy, electrical power generation, and our natural energy resources such as wind, fossil fuels, solar, hydro, ocean, geothermal, and nuclear energies.

Control The Nuclear Power Plant (Demonstration)
In this online nuclear power plant simulation, you control the rates of nuclear reactions and the flow of thermal energy throughout the system, trying to prevent nuclear meltdown or a disasterous steam explosion that will release radioactive materials into the environment.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    electricity
Definition: A fundamental entity of nature consisting of negative and positive kinds, observable in the attractions and repulsions of bodies electrified by friction and in natural phenomena, and usually utilized in the form of electric currents.
Context: Electricity involves the movement of protons and electrons due to the attraction of particles with the same charge and the repulsion of particles with different charges.

speaker    electromagnet
Definition: A core of magnetic material surrounded by a coil of wire through which an electric current is passed to magnetize the core.
Context: An electromagnet can be used to separate iron ore from surrounding nonmagnetic materials.

speaker    generator
Definition: A machine by which mechanical energy is changed into electrical energy.
Context: The generator was able to keep the electrical equipment running for hours.

speaker    turbine
Definition: A rotary engine actuated by the reaction or impulse or both of a current of fluid subject to pressure and usually made with a series of curved vanes on a central rotating spindle.
Context: The steam powers a turning turbine, which converts kinetic energy into mechanical energy.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: science
Understands energy types, sources, and conversions, and their relationship to heat and temperature.
Understands that energy cannot be created or destroyed but only changed from one form to another.
Knows that electrical circuits provide a means of transferring electrical energy to produce heat, light, sound, and chemical changes.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Benchmark 6-8:
Designs and conducts a scientific investigation (e.g., formulates questions, designs and executes investigations, interprets data, synthesizes evidence into explanations, proposes alternative explanations for observations, critiques explanations and procedures).
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows possible outcomes of scientific investigations (e.g., some may result in new ideas and phenomena for study; some may generate new methods or procedures for an investigation; some may result in the development of new technologies to improve the collection of data; some may lead to new investigations).
Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons (e.g., to discover new aspects of the natural world, to explain recently observed phenomena, to test the conclusions of prior investigations, to test the predictions of current theories).
Benchmark 9-12:
Designs and conducts scientific investigations by formulating testable hypotheses, identifying and clarifying the method, controls, and variables; organizing and displaying data; revising methods and explanations; presenting the results; and receiving critical response from others.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: science
Knows the kinds of forces that exist between objects and within atoms.
Knows that magnetic forces are very closely related to electric forces and can be thought of as different aspects of a single electromagnetic force (moving electric charges produce magnetic forces and moving magnets produce electric forces); the interplay of these forces is the basis for electric motors, generators, radio, television, and many other modern technologies.

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Mary C. Cahill, middle school science coordinator, Potomac School, McLean, Virginia.

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