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The Energy Game: Finding Energy Resources

DeWayne Backhus, Beloit College

This energy game activity engages students in learning about energy sources. This game demonstrates that energy, the environment, and economics are closely tied together. During the course of the game and in the discussion afterward, students learn the concepts of scarcity, opportunity cost, net energy profit, law of diminishing returns, and that availability does not mean usefulness.

Activity takes two 45-minute class periods. Additional materials needed.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Energy decisions are influenced by economic factors.
Other materials addressing:
5.4 Economic factors.
Earth has finite energy resources.
Other materials addressing:
6.4 Earth has finite energy resources.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:C) Resources
Other materials addressing:
C) Resources.

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

  • Science teachers may want to team up with an economics/social studies teacher to run the activity.
  • Plan to have enough clean-up time or else there will be quite a mess on the floor of your classroom. Only do this activity if you can handle the idea of potentially having beads be all over your classroom, many not found until weeks later. This problem is mitigated by grouping beads as discussed in scientific annotations.
  • Teachers may want to restrict the area that the beads are scattered in. Some may be crushed or lost in one period's time, making it difficult to repeat for another class immediately after the first.
  • Post all the rules on the board in addition to verbally discussing them.
  • Do this activity over 2 days - one day for the searching and recording (and clean up) and one day for analysis and discussion.
  • This activity does not include wind energy but it does include solar. Teachers could modify this so that wind and solar are treated similarly in the game.

About the Science

  • Because different types of primary energy sources vary by geological setting, beads should not be randomly thrown in the air but rather strategically grouped by resource. Natural gas can go with petroleum, but petroleum must not be located with coal. Uranium must not be grouped with any of the hydrocarbons.
  • Students play a game to recognize that as time goes by, energy resources usually become harder to locate and recover. The resource triangle diagramatically illustrates the inverse relationship between resource quality and abundance.
  • Students also learn that the price of a particular resource directly relates to the incentive of companies to obtain it.
  • The reference to the primary source for the resource triangles is: Hoditeh, S.A., 2003, "The Increasing Role of Unconventional Reservoirs in the Future of the Oil & Gas Business." Journal of Petroleum Technology, vol. 55, no. 11, pp. 34-37.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The activity combines energy, economics and environment concepts into a grade-appropriate plan. The inclusion of economics is particularly interesting. The activity needs to be updated.

About the Pedagogy

  • There is a great deal of economics in this lesson and some excellent thought/discussion points are included.
  • A key element of the activity is that "deck is stacked" against solar; the yellow solar beads have a larger needle that doesn't allow the beads to be easily strung, and some of the yellow beads are crushed and therefore can't be strung at all.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Teacher must very carefully prep for this activity (counting, sorting beads, etc) - read through all the instructions more than once so you understand the flow of the lesson.
  • A well-managed classroom is necessary for this activity to not get "out of control."

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Developing and Using Models, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

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

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

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

MS-P7.4:Make an oral or written argument that supports or refutes the advertised performance of a device, process, or system based on empirical evidence concerning whether or not the technology meets relevant criteria and constraints.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

HS-ESS3.A:Natural Resources

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

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.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence

HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

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-P6.3:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P7.1:Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues

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