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Renewable Energy Living Lab: Energy Priorities

Mike Mooney, Minal Parekh, Scott Schankweiler, Jessica Noffsinger, Karen Johnson, Jonathan Knudtsen, University of Colorado Boulder; Colorado School of Mines

In this activity, students explore real data about renewable energy potential in their state using a mapping tool developed by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) to investigate the best locations for wind energy, solar energy, hydropower, geothermal energy, and biomass.

Activity takes at least one 60-minute class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • Educator should be familiar with the lab visualizations and tools before beginning the activity with students.
  • This activity can be used to help students become familiar with the mapping tool. After that, many different types of questions can be answered with the tool such as using multiple states for study.
  • Educator may want to expand the chart on the energy priorities worksheet to allow students to take more in-depth notes on their research. Educator may also want to go through the legend and the units of measurement before jumping into the lesson/analysis.
  • If time constraints exist, educator may want to jigsaw the activity by having each group of students explore different energy types, locations, costs, etc., and then present their findings to the class as each energy source and use of Living Lab Tool may require significant research. Alternatively this experience could be assigned as a long-term project.
  • Activity might be more of a challenge if different groups used different states and justified their recommendations to each other, rather than all groups working on the same state.

About the Science

  • This activity focuses on five key forms of renewable energy: wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and biomass.
  • Using data and visualizations from the TeachEngineering Renewable Energy Living Lab (NREL data), the purpose of the lab is to identify which forms of renewable energy are most suitable for students' home states.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - Allows the students to obtain a visual grasp of renewable energy sources across the U.S., which is great! The data come from a reliable source -- NREL.
    - And, this is a great way for younger students to get a hands-on lesson covering data analysis and critical thinking in science.
    - I also love the way it demonstrates how important science is for making policy decisions, which have tangible impacts on our everyday lives.
    - One concern is whether or not the students will have a sufficient scientific basis for understanding the material presented in this lab. Some of the concepts/descriptions may be beyond their grasp, depending on the class academic level. For example, items such as primary energy source, or public utilities commission, are not explained in the lab (but must likely will need to be defined for the students). Things such as what a watt is (and examples showing just how much power is in a watt) should also be incorporated by the teacher into the lab.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity takes a fairly complex topic - where to find the best locations to develop renewable energy - and asks students to search for answers by using a GIS-based mapping tool. The tool gives results visually and quantitatively, so students can be analytical in their thinking and decision making.
  • This activity engages students in higher-order thinking as they evaluate different locations and energy sources and make a recommendation to the state public service commission.
  • In groups of two, students take the role of engineers tasked with investigating which form(s) of renewable energy their home state should focus on as it recruits new energy companies to do business in the state. Energy priorities worksheet guides students through the investigation using the Renewable Energy Living Lab visualizations and data.
  • Assessment ideas are included.
  • Rich list of additional resources provided on the teacher guide.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The design and layout are clear. All the materials are provided, including student worksheet, background information, and answer key.
  • The map viewer has changed a bit since the screenshots were made. The instructions still work, but the screenshots look slightly different from the actual tool.
  • Finding specific cities on the mapping tool is not intuitive. In the upper right corner, underneath 'change base map,' click on the circular icon, which when hovered over says 'zoom to a location.' Then type in the city name. Aside from that, the map is intuitive, engaging, and fun to use.
  • Note that the visualization is a beta version - may change over time.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Larger curriculum can be found on the Teachers' resource page: https://www.teachengineering.org/livinglabs/renewableenergyeducators

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

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.A1:The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions.

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.8:Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

MS-P7.5:Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

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