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July 11, 2017

Lesson Plan: How inventions using water power can create renewable energy

Picture your nearest river or lake. How do people use it? Are you happy with the way it is treated and its relationship to your community?

In some areas, sources of water are being used as enormous batteries to help supply power to thousands of homes, schools and businesses. This PBS NewsHour lesson will explore innovative ways to look at the movement and power of water and ask students to . Can you think of another invention, or come up with your own idea, of how we could better harness the power of water?


Middle and high school


Physical Science, Earth Science, Environmental Science

Estimated time

Two 50-minute periods


Internet access

Computer with LCD projector and speakers or student devices

Whiteboards/poster board and markers for each team

Student journals


PBS NewsHour video: How drinking water pipes can also deliver electric power

PBS NewsHour online: Oregon to transform lakes into batteries to charge electricity grid

PBS Learning Media: Hoover Dam and Hydroelectricity Power


The pumped storage hydroelectric system is an old invention that’s getting a new innovative look. Back in the 1960s to 1980s, pumped storage hydroelectricity accounted for around 90 percent of the energy storage in the United States. These storage facilities were mainly built and used alongside nuclear power plants. But as nuclear power became less popular, so did large pumped storage projects.

With the intense push for alternative and renewable forms of energy production, pumped storage hydroelectricity is making a comeback. Solar and wind power are popular sources of energy and big business, but what happens when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing? How could you store excess energy to use on a rainy day?

The purpose of this lesson is to expose students to additional formats of generating electricity through the movement of water, in this case, the invention of hydroelectric power. Students will then draft their own model of a pumped storage hydroelectric system.

Essential Question

How could inventions using the power of water help to create renewable energy?


Warm-up activity

  1. Use the whiteboard or poster board to have teams come up with other ways that electricity can be generated with renewable and non-renewable resources. Have students report their responses to the class.
  2. Follow-up with these two questions: Where does your water supply come from in your community? Where is your electricity produced and how? Ask them if they’ve ever heard of hydroelectricity or what the term might involve.
  3. Talk to your family about where your water comes from and what their water bill looks like.

Main activities

  1. Students should read the PBS NewsHour’s article: Oregon to transform lakes into batteries to charge electricity grid  with a partner—take down two bullet points for each bold headed section.
    • Discussion questions: Talk about these with your partner and be ready to share.
      • Discuss why it is important to store electricity for later use.
      • Discuss if it is possible to build a pumped-storage plan here in our area or state.
  2. Next students should listen to the audio story for a clear, brief explanation of pumped storage hydroelectricity. Students should add to their notes, writing down important points that were new from the text piece they read.
  3. Renewable energy activity

Extension Activities:

  • Watch the PBS NewsHour video ‘How drinking water pipes can also deliver electric power‘ to learn more about hydroelectric power. Ask students to research a hydroelectric system and write a proposal to test the system in their community.
  • Show the PBS Learning Media clip on The Hoover Dam and Hydroelectric Power.
    • Have students take two column notes on what they saw as the key ideas in the video. Show video a second time, if needed, and ask students to share their notes.

Eric Strommer teaches middle school in Flint, Michigan. He wrote this PBS NewsHour Teachers’ Lounge post about the water crisis in Flint, which heavily impacts schools.

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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Next Generation Science Standards

      MS-ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

      HS-PS3-3. Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.

      HS-ESS3-2. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios

      HS-ESS3-4. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems

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