ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES
and Critical Analysis
Lisa Prososki, a former middle and high school teacher
secondary science, geography, and current events classes
Time: Three to four 50-minute class periods plus additional time for classroom
presentation and extension activities.
Level: 10-12 (lesson can be modified for lower grades)
1. Participate in a class discussion of their ideas and opinions
related to energy conserving
efforts that could directly impact their school
2. Read articles related to energy costs and consumption
Use computation skills to determine the economic effects of rising energy costs
4. Analyze data from a graph to determine the types
of energy currently used in the U.S.
5. Participate in a class discussion of
key terms related to energy including fossil fuels, renewable
resources, greenhouse gasses, and global warming
6. Participate in a simulation
activity and conduct research and create a project that will be used
others about alternative/renewable energy sources
7. Teach classmates about
a specific alternative/renewable energy source using a model,
diagram, or interactive or multimedia display
8. Participate in a class discussion
about the advantages and disadvantages of using alternative
MAKE THESE LESSONS BETTER
to National Standards
a year when Americans experienced record high prices at the gas pumps and winter
heating costs are projected to soar nearly fifty percent, consumers are looking
for ways to lower their energy costs for businesses, homes, schools, and transportation.
Our primary energy sources today are fossil fuels, which are being depleted at
an alarming rate. According to some, if consumption continues at the current rate,
the fossil fuel supply could be gone before the end of the century. In addition
to the cost and supply issues, scientists have long warned of the environmental
damage caused by burning fossil fuels. In short, we are at a crossroads. Americans
must use and develop alternate forms of energy to help us power our homes, automobiles,
and businesses into the future without destroying the Earth's environment. Exploring
the use of renewable and alternative resources is a must in today's world.
Introduce the idea of exploring alternative energy sources by asking students
the following questions and allowing 2-3 minutes to discuss each one.
would you feel if you were no longer able to go on school field trips or participate
in extracurricular activities because of the high cost of transportation to and
from these events?
would you feel about attending school only four days each week knowing that you
would have to attend an additional three weeks in the summer to make up for the
shorter school week?
would you feel about having a longer school day, attending for an additional 1-2
hours each day so that the school would only have to be open four days each week?
would you feel about having fewer bus routes resulting in longer commutes for
you each day?
do you think your learning would be effected if you were in a classroom that was
only heated to 60 or 65 degrees?
Distribute and/or share the NewsHour Extra article entitled, "High Gas Prices
Could Mean Cold Classrooms and Canceled Trips" available at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/july-dec05/gascosts_11-21.html.
As a class, read the article and discuss what some schools are being forced to
do because of the rising cost of fuel for buses and heating school buildings.
Make the impact of the rising cost of gasoline and providing heat by having students
complete the following equations.
you or your parents (if you are not old enough to drive) own a car that has a
15 gallon gasoline tank. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $2.10 one
year ago. Today, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is $3.00. Calculate
how much more it is costing you to fill your car with gas each month assuming
that you fill your car once each week and there are 4 weeks in each month. Answer:
$54.00 per month
heating bills typically rise during the winter because of the colder weather.
This year experts predict this cost to rise up to 44% in some areas of the country.
Calculate how much this increase will amount to each month if your typical home
heating bill was $150 per month last winter. Answer: $66.00 each month
together the total additional expense you will incur each month based on the two
math problems above. Answer: $120.00 per month
will this extra expense impact you and your family?
Using the chart entitled "American Energy Sources" available at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/infrastructure/power/,
(scroll down to Charts and Graphs and click on U.S. Fuel and Energy Sources),
discuss the fact that the vast majority of U.S. energy comes from fossil fuels.
At this time, conduct a short class discussion that includes information such
are fossil fuels?
do these types of fuels contribute to the production of greenhouse gasses and
do we mean when we say these types of resources are nonrenewable?
Pose a question such as:
are some renewable resources that can be used to generate power for vehicles,
homes, schools, businesses, and manufacturing?
As a class, make a list of all of the renewable resources that students can think
of and record them on the board or overhead for all to see. NOTE: A list
of renewable resources and related words along with their definitions appears
below for use with this activity.
resource: natural resource that is depleted at a rate slower than the rate
at which it regenerates (i.e. solar energy)
resource: resources for which there are no ways to replenish the supply (i.e.
fuels: also known as mineral fuels, they are hydrocarbon containing natural
resources such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas
energy: harnessing the energy produced by sunlight
power: using the kinetic energy of the wind or wind turbines to extract the
energy obtained from flowing water
energy: electricity generated by utilizing naturally occurring geological
fuel cells: electrochemical cell in which the energy of a reaction between
fuel, such as liquid hydrogen, and an oxidant, such as liquid oxygen, is converted
into electrical energy
energy: energy released from the nucleus of an atom creating an nuclear reaction
light emitting diodes: a semiconductor device that emits light using a variety
of inorganic materials
gasses: gaseous components of the atmosphere including carbon dioxide and
ozone, among others. They contribute to the greenhouse effect
warming: an increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere
and oceans increasing the greenhouse effect
Once the list has been recorded, ask a questions such as:
all of these resources are available, why aren't they being more widely used to
power our country?
a discussion about the reasons why renewable energy sources are not widely used.
Be sure to include information about cost, reliability, and access.
Now that students have a basic understanding of the difference between renewable
and nonrenewable resources and some of the issues surrounding U.S. energy needs
and consumption, present them with the following scenario:
year is 2040 and Americans are in trouble. The world's supply of fossil fuels
is being rapidly depleted. As a result, drivers are paying $20 per gallon for
gasoline, and the cost of heating and cooling homes, businesses, and schools has
forced many public buildings to close because of their inability to pay for energy.
Families and industry are suffering as well. Goods can't be transported across
the country, and many people must endure extreme heat and cold because energy
costs are so high. Add to this the ill health of the Earth's environment, ravaged
for years by greenhouse gasses and the effects of global warming. The situation
is critical. Alternative energy sources must be developed so that Americans can
have reliable, efficient, environmentally friendly ways to run their cars, power
their manufacturing plants, and heat and cool their businesses, schools, and homes.
Go further into the simulation by telling students:
and your partner are scientists who have been instructed to find ways to solve
the energy crisis being faced by the U.S. You will be assigned a specific task
related to solving this nationwide crisis. It will be up to you and your partner
to research, design, and teach others about an alternative form of energy that
can be used to safely meet the energy demands of the population without an extremely
high price or further damage to the environment.
Using the Project List handout, assign each pair
of students a specific topic to research. Students should record their research
findings on the Research Guide handout. Encourage
them to visit the Web sites listed in the Online Resources section of the guide.
Once research is completed, students must then create a model, experiment, diagram,
or some type of interactive or multimedia type of display that they can use to
teach classmates about how a specific renewable resource or new form of energy
can be used to power America. Students should use their persuasive speaking skills
to convince their classmates that their source of energy/power is better than
the current fossil fuels being used.
After all groups have presented their projects, facilitate a final class discussion
about the development of alternative energy sources. Include questions such as:
do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of using alternative energy sources?
you consider using an alternative energy source to power your car or heat your
home? Why or why not?
do you think will happen if renewable alternative energy sources are not developed
and used widely by the general public? Explain your answer.
1. Have students research and discuss ways that they can be actively
involved in cutting their own energy consumption. Each student should create a
chart describing what he/she is doing to conserve energy and should track how
much energy they are saving each day or week by changing their behavior and usage
Invite a panel of local energy experts to visit the classroom to discuss and show
students examples of alternative energy sources that are being developed for use
in the community.
Hold an energy fair in the school and invite students from other classrooms or
grade levels to visit a booth showcasing each pair of students and their project.
Encourage students to share what they have learned about alternative and renewable
energy sources with others as they look at the displays created by each pair.
Create an energy awareness campaign in the school and encourage all students to
learn more about energy conservation and alternative energy sources through a
series of announcements, commercials, flyers, etc.
Compendium of K-12 Standards Addressed:
7: Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface
11: Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's
Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical
Standard 16: Understands the changes that occur in the meaning,
use, distribution and
importance of resources
Standard 18: Understands
global development and environmental issues
Standard 9: Understands the sources and properties of energy
3: Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation
Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the
Standard 3: Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
the Author Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught
middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology
courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked with PBS TeacherSource and has authored
and edited many lesson plans and materials for various PBS programs over the past
nine years. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state
and national meetings, Prososki works as an editor, creates a wide range of educational
and training materials for corporate clients, and has authored one book.
find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman