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        NOVA Energy Lab Lesson Plan

        In this media-rich lesson plan from NOVA Labs, students use short videos to explore the following topics: what energy is, how it can be converted into useful forms, and why some sources are running low. Students also investigate alternative energies and how energy is stored and transported. The research challenge allows students to use scientific data to design their own renewable energy plans for a real cities and compete with others to produce the most power. Students use maps, graphs, and weather data to assess the energy potential of various locations and benefits of using renewable energy in different regions of the country.

        Lesson Summary

        Using the NOVA Energy Lab, students will explore the following topics: what energy is, how we can produce energy, and how we can use energy more efficiently. Students will also investigate alternative energies and how energy is stored and transported.  The research challenge allows students to use scientific data to design their own renewable energy plans for a real cities and compete with others to produce the most power.

        Time Allotment

        Minimum of one to two class periods. Can be extended based on optional activities.

        Learning Objectives

        Content Objectives

        Students will know:

        • the definition of energy
        • how energy is produced
        • efficient energy usage
        • alternative energy resources
        • how energy is stored and transported
        Process Objectives

        Students will be able to:

        • design a renewable energy system to generate power and meet production targets
        • use maps, graphs, and weather data to assess the energy potential of various locations
        • test energy system models against historical and real-time weather and solar data
        • compare/contrast challenges and benefits of using renewable energy in different regions of the country


        Prep for Teachers

        Teachers should prepare for this lesson by viewing video clips and completing the research challenge so they are familiar with the lab's activities and platform.


        • Computers with Internet access.
        • Students must create an account for the NOVA Energy Lab Research Challenge so their progress can be saved, or use a guest pass for their session.

        Multimedia Resources

        Energy Lab Video Resources:

        • Growing Appetites, Limited Resources– Explores the impacts of energy use, the issue of dwindling resources, and the need for alternatives.
        • Energy Defined– Covers the basics of this abstract property, what energy is, how it's conserved, and what makes some forms more useful than others.
        • Putting Energy to Use– Explains that making use of energy often involves converting it into other forms.
        • A Never-Ending Supply– Explains what makes a renewable a renewable and explores some of the more promising alternative energy sources available.
        • Solar Power– Covers the basics of capturing the enduring energy of the Sun and converting it into other forms, especially electrical energy.
        • Wind Power– Explains how wind can be captured and transformed into electrical energy and explores some of the challenges of using wind to power cities.
        • Solving the Storage Problem– Explores the need for storage, namely the intermittent nature of many renewable resources and explains why this is not an easy problem to solve.
        • Toward a Smarter Grid– Looks at the state of the current electric power grid and explains how making the grid "smarter" will make it both more reliable and more efficient.

        Introductory Activity

        Part 1:  Introduction to Energy

        • Explain to students that they will be investigating energy, how it is created and transported, and renewable/alternative energy options for cities around the country.
        • Have students brainstorm individually what they think energy is and how they think it is created. Students should also brainstorm alterative energy resources. Give students the opportunity to list and/or draw their brainstorm ideas.  
        • After individual brainstorming, students should share in pairs/small groups. Feel free to create a class brainstorm list so students can see everyone’s ideas.


        Learning Activities

        Part 2:  Building Background Knowledge
        Have students watch the following video clips and answer the corresponding questions. Ask students to take any relevant notes in their notebooks and discuss the questions as a class. Students can refer to the videos when considering answers to the questions.


        • Watch Growing Appetites, Limited Resources and ask: Which two issues have increased the need for alternatives to fossil fuels? A) oxygen and dwindling resources B) increasing demand and carbon monoxide C) dwindling resources and carbon dioxide D) increasing demand and water shortages
        • Watch Energy Defined and ask: When we use electricity to power our electronics, what other two, less useful, forms of energy often result? A) light and heat B) carbon dioxide and water C) kinetic and rotational D) heat and carbon
        • Watch Putting Energy to Use and ask: Which three activities consume the most fuel in modern societies? A) cooking, air conditioning, transportation B) construction, lighting, entertainment C) manufacturing, transportation, entertainment D) heating, transportation, electricity generation


        • Watch A Never Ending Supply and ask: Which two renewable technologies do not rely on energy from the Sun? A) wind and hydroelectric B) geothermal and hydroelectric C) geothermal and tidal D) biomass and wind
        • Watch Solar Power and ask: Identify three technological challenges that limit the use of solar power in the United States. A) weight, cost, toxicity B) aesthetics, toxicity, efficiency C) storage, weight, fragility D) cost, storage, efficiency
        • Watch Wind Power and ask: Which characteristic, device, or substance do wind turbines have in common with traditional power plants? A) greenhouse gas emissions B) able to produce power at any time C) an electrical generator D) fuel


        • Watch Solving the Storage Problem and ask: Which issues would better energy storage technologies help solve? A) inconsistent energy demand B) inconsistent power production C) weather's influence on energy use and production D) the need to keep inefficient plants on standby E) all of the above

        • Watch Toward a Smarter Grid and ask: Which circumstances would a smarter power grid help resolve? A) high demand, low production B) extreme heat, low wind C) low demand, high production D) power failures E) all of the above

        Part 3:  Research Challenge

        Once students have sufficient energy background knowledge using the above activities, they will be ready to move onto the research challenge to design their own energy system. In the NOVA Energy Lab Research Challenge, students will sort through variations of energy systems in order to cost effectively meet energy demand while also saving the greatest amount of carbon emissions.

        • Ask students to discuss what success would look like for a system in a particular location. Is it generating the most power? Is it saving the most money?
        • Students can work individually or in small groups. They can compare/contrast different regions of the country and/or compete with each other in the same city/region to design the best system based on their criteria for success. Location choices include: Oak Ridge, TN, Boulder, CO, Las Vegas, NV, Los Angeles, CA, or Tuscon, AZ.
        • Once students begin the challenge and their location, they will have the opportunity to read the background scenario on their selected city and watch any related video clips to supplement their knowledge. At this point, students can begin designing their system for the challenge. The energy lab will take them step-by-step through the design process.
        • As students progress through designing and testing their challenge, they will have the opportunity to receive feedback and make any desired changes to their system to best meet the energy needs in a cost-efficient manner.
        • After testing their design, students will be able to analyze data output from their energy system.

        Culminating Activity

        Part 4:  Summary and Conclusion

        After students have completed the research challenge, have them discuss/answer the following questions:

        • Compare/contrast your data with other students from the same location. What was similar/different about the designs? Which design generated the most power? Which design saved the most money? Based upon the data, which design was the best for your location? Why?
        • If you were to redesign your system, what would you keep the same? What changes would you make? Provide an explanation as to why you would redesign your system in this manner.
        • Compare/contrast the challenges and benefits of using renewable energy in large and small cities, and in different regions of the country.
        • Optional: Have students create a visual/short presentation to the entire class about their design and findings.
        • Optional: Have students complete a second design for another location.

        Part 5:  Extension Activities

        If desired, have students complete some of the following optional extension activities:

        • Students could research what types of renewable energy resources are available and used in their own city or region.  
        • If the local power company uses any of these renewable energy resources, consider taking a field trip to one of the power generation stations if possible.





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