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Energy Enigma


This activity is a learning game in which student teams are each assigned a different energy source. Working cooperatively, students use their reading, brainstorming, and organizational skills to hide the identity of their team’s energy source while trying to guess which energy sources the other teams represent.

Activity takes about three 45-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Performance Expectations, 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 6 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Energy Literacy

Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Different sources of energy and the different ways energy can be transformed, transported and stored each have different benefits and drawbacks.
Other materials addressing:
4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
Other materials addressing:
B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
Other materials addressing:
C) Energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:C) Resources
Other materials addressing:
C) Resources.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
Other materials addressing:
D) Technology.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
Other materials addressing:
E) Environmental Issues.

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

  • Students must follow very specific rules and procedures to play this game - the teacher should be familiar with all of this before teaching the lesson (practice playing the game before using with students).

About the Science

  • Students learn about various energy sources, their uses, whether they are renewable or non-renewable, and their environmental impacts.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • A complex and engaging game that requires critical thinking and group work to "win."
  • Very clear articulation of how this resource meets a variety of national science standards such as natural resources, physical sciences, earth and space, and so forth.
  • Also meets the standard of a critical thinking resource by requiring students to determine their own and others’ positions in the game regarding the energy sources they have been assigned.
  • Very specific, step-by-step teacher instructions provided. This should enhance student participation and engagement.
  • A grading scheme is provided to individually assess students/groups.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This game is complex and will take the teacher some time to understand and then explain to students.
  • About 1 hour of prep time is needed prior to the first day of this lesson to do the copying, cutting and dividing of energy cards and envelopes.
  • Students will need careful guidance for setting up the game.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 2

MS-ETS1-2: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

MS-ESS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

MS-ESS3.A1:Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes.

MS-ESS3.C2:Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise.

MS-ESS3.D1:Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

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

MS-ETS1.B3:Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect

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

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 8

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P4.7:Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.

MS-P5.4:Apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (e.g., ratio, rate, percent, basic operations, simple algebra) to scientific and engineering questions and problems.

MS-P6.4:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events.

MS-P7.2:Respectfully provide and receive critiques about one’s explanations, procedures, models, and questions by citing relevant evidence and posing and responding to questions that elicit pertinent elaboration and detail.

MS-P8.1:Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s).

MS-P1.2:ask questions to identify and/or clarify evidence and/or the premise(s) of an argument.

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-2: Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 6

HS-ESS3.A1:Resource availability has guided the development of human society.

HS-ESS3.A2:All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.

HS-ESS3.C1:The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.

HS-ETS1.A1:Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be quantified to the extent possible and stated in such a way that one can tell if a given design meets them.

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

HS-ETS1.B1:When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.

HS-C1.4: Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

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-C5.5:In nuclear processes, atoms are not conserved, but the total number of protons plus neutrons is conserved.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.1:ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P4.2:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.3:Respectfully provide and/or receive critiques on scientific arguments by probing reasoning and evidence, challenging ideas and conclusions, responding thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, and determining additional information required to resolve contradictions.

HS-P8.1:Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

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