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Energy flows

NEED Project - Putting Energy into Education

This activity introduces students to different forms of energy, energy transformations, energy storage, and the flow of energy through systems. Students learn that most energy can be traced back to nuclear fusion on the sun.

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

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts, 2 Science and Engineering Practices


Global Energy Balance
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Carbon Cycle
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Solar Radiation
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Fossil Fuels
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Energy Infrastructure
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Grade Level

Middle (6-8)
See more at this grade level.

Activity is written for middle school students, but can be modified for younger high school students or high school inclusion/special education class.

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1a
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d

Energy Literacy

Other materials addressing:
1.5 Forms of energy.
Other materials addressing:
4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
Other materials addressing:
4.5 Electricity generation.
Other materials addressing:
2.2 Sources of energy on Earth.
Other materials addressing:
2.4 Water stores and transfers energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.

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:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
Other materials addressing:
D) Flow of matter and energy.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
Other materials addressing:
A) Human/environment interactions.

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

  • The card activity can be done kinesthetically or also in small groups at a desk or table. The order of the cards should reflect real-world connections.
  • Coal-fired power plants are not the only source of electricity generation in the U.S. (only 33% in 2015 and shrinking); find out what the primary source of electricity generation is your state or county and modify the activity.

About the Science

  • Students learn about forms of potential and kinetic energy, differentiate between energy flows in a battery-powered flashlight and a hand-generated flashlight, learn about the energy transformations in fusion, photosynthesis, coal formation, and a coal-fired power plant, and learn about the similarities between the formation of fossil fuels.
  • The content and connections are simplified but correct.

About the Pedagogy

  • Excellent visual materials that can be used with great success with students who are English language learners and also in special education or collaborative/inclusion classrooms.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Clear, well-written, easy-to-follow instructions for educator.
  • Handouts and copies of transparencies are provided and are ready to be used.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

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