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Transfer of energy

By Mary Bigelow

Posted on 2011-12-11

SS Cover Dec 2011My middle schoolers were full of energy! This month’s Science Scope has many suggestions for channeling their enthusiasm into studying energy transformations. What’s really relevant is that most of the activities require simple materials and can be completed within a few class periods, while still focusing on higher-order thinking and science/engineering practices.
Middle-schoolers love a challenge, especially when they can work in teams. Powering the Future describes a wind turbine design challenge. Students demonstrate their understanding of how energy changes form in the process. The authors provide suggestions on time (2 class periods), equipments needed, student handouts, and a rubric. The photos show the creativity of the students. Generating Excitement has a related activity in which students build generators. (It’s a coincidence that I was reading this article while traveling–as a passenger–through western NY and PA where there are many windmills on the ridges, providing a real-life application). [SciLinks: Wind Energy, Kinetic and Potential Energy]

NSTA journals have published have published articles describing investigations using common objects such as pencils and paper. Clips and Clamps describes a 5E hands-on activity (including a student handout) with these common classroom objects. This would certainly fit into a unit on simple machines (levers).  [SciLinks: Mechanical Advantage, Pencils, Paper, Simple Machines]
Students can demonstrate their creativity as well as their understanding of motion and forces as described in Drivers, Start Your Glue Guns. In this challenge, students build “stock car pasta pods” and test the distance their model can travel. [SciLinks: Forces and Motion, Measuring Motion, Laws of Motion]
Every four years, it seems that people are intrigued by the Winter Olympic sport of curling. The author of Swept Away describes how her students learn science concepts along with a new sport—and if you don’t have a curling rink or club nearby, the article has video resources.  [SciLinks: Friction]
As the author of Teaching About Heat and Temperature Using an Investigative Demonstration notes, the transfer of thermal energy is a difficult concept for middle school students (and others!). He shares how he uses the Predict-Share-Observe-Explain sequence for class demonstrations and formative assessment probes to help students with concepts of conduction and convection.  [SciLinks: Heat Transfer, Conduction, Convection]
Energy Scavenger Hunt provides a real-life look at uses and costs of electricity. Students find examples of energy use at home (the authors provide suggestions for students who are unable to complete the activity at home). [SciLinks: Ohm’s Law, Current Electricity, Electrical Circuits]
Look at That! shows a different sort of transfer of energy–from Eww and Gross to Wow and Cool as students observe and describe the behavior of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Instead of just keeping these (or other classroom pets) in the back of the room, the authors show how putting them center stage can be an effective way to improve students’ skills in observation and description. [SciLinks: Insects]

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