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Going For A Spin - Making a Model Steam Turbine

Marilyn Nemzer, Deborah Page, Anna Carter, Energy Education Group

Students explore how various energy sources can be used to cause a turbine to rotate and then generate electricity with a magnet.

Activity takes one to two 45-minute class periods. Additional materials necessary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Energy Literacy

Energy is a quantity that is transferred from system to system.
Other materials addressing:
1.1 Energy is a quantity.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
Other materials addressing:
B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
Other materials addressing:
D) Technology.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action
Other materials addressing:
C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Be sure to go over safety precautions beforehand. Thermal gloves should be used whenever possible.
  • Educators will need to build the model first in order to understand where students might get stuck or injured.
  • Educators should point out that reversing the action of the apparatus in Part B demonstrates how electric motors work (also a feature of hybrid cars).
  • Be sure to remind the students to keep their bare skin away from the steam (page 7 of activity).

About the Science

  • Hands-on activity that demonstrates how turbines work.
  • Good at demonstrating the relationship between magnetism and electricity.

About the Pedagogy

  • Good selection of assessments to prompt student thinking and analysis.
  • Good hands-on activities to gain a tactile understanding of how a generator works.
  • Student answer sheets are missing, but the activity can be done without them.
  • Building (kinesthetic) type activities increase participation of students with different learning styles.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Necessary materials are commonly found in a classroom or at home.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

HS-PS3-3: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-PS3.B1: When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time.

MS-ETS1.B2: There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

HS-PS3.D1: Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

HS-ETS1.A2: Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities

Science and Engineering Practices

MS-P2.2: Develop or modify a model— based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.

MS-P3.1: Plan an investigation individually and collaboratively, and in the design: identify independent and dependent variables and controls, what tools are needed to do the gathering, how measurements will be recorded, and how many data are needed to support a claim.

MS-P6.2: Construct an explanation using models or representations.

MS-P6.8: Optimize performance of a design by prioritizing criteria, making tradeoffs, testing, revising, and re- testing.

MS-P8.5: Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.

MS-P1.4: Ask questions to clarify and/or refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.

HS-P1.8: Define a design problem that involves the development of a process or system with interacting components and criteria and constraints that may include social, technical, and/or environmental considerations. 

HS-P2.2: Design a test of a model to ascertain its reliability.

HS-P2.3: Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

HS-P3.1: Plan an investigation or test a design individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence as part of building and revising models, supporting explanations for phenomena, or testing solutions to problems. Consider possible confounding variables or effects and evaluate the investigation’s design to ensure variables are controlled.

HS-P4.5: Evaluate the impact of new data on a working explanation and/or model of a proposed process or system.

HS-P7.5: Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.5: Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

Cross-Cutting Concepts

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C4.3: Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

MS-C5.3: Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

HS-C4.1: Systems can be designed to do specific tasks.

HS-C4.3: Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C5.3: Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

HS-C6.1: Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem.

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