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Clean Energy Education

Lesson Plans, Activities and Resources Empower Students to Make Informed Choices and Develop Creative Solutions to Environmental Challenges

Found In: science, social studies, preK-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Clean energy is defined as power created using renewable resources such as the wind, plants, water and the sun. Clean energy sources generate little to no pollution or emissions, compared to traditional fossil fuels such as oil and coal. In addition to using clean energy sources, the concept of clean energy also involves energy efficiency. This means that using less energy or using it more smartly also leads to less pollution.

Clean energy is important for many reasons. Using renewable energy resources at home offers job opportunities as existing and new technologies are developed.  These efforts also lessen reliance on energy from abroad.

Reducing pollution with the use of clean energy is also important to the health and safety of everyone, as well as to the preservation of natural resources. Concerned experts link the air and water pollution caused by coal and natural gas plants to breathing problems, cancer, heart attacks and damage to the neurological system. Coal is also the leading source of global warming pollution in the country, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Further, coal mining destroys land and pollutes waters.

Clean energy or renewable resources and technologies include:

  • Solar collectors and panels used to convert the sun’s energy into electricity
  • Wind turbines that turn air currents into power
  • Biomass or plant material and animal waste, burned for use as energy
  • Geothermal energy, using heat from the earth to create power
  • Hydroelectric power, using dams to harness the movement of water to create electricity
  • Hydrokinetic energy, capturing the power of rivers, tides and waves to create electricity

Nuclear power can be considered clean energy in that there are no emissions, but an accident or disaster could be devastating to human health.

Sometimes, clean energy sources multitask. For instance, oceans are a source of thermal energy, as they store heat from the sun, as well as mechanical energy from the power of waves. Scientists are also exploring geothermal resources such as hot water located a few miles beneath the earth’s surface.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, consumers today have more ability and interest in investing in clean energy. In fact, renewable energy use has the potential to strengthen the nation’s energy security on top of improving the environment. States vary in determining which energy sources and production methods are clean, so the rules and energy options differ depending on location. Yet a wide range of clean energy methods are being researched and implemented across the country.

Clean energy education will empower students to understand how choices made at home, in school and within communities impact the environment. Addressing clean energy in the classroom can also introduce students to interesting innovations in the changing field of energy. Perhaps most importantly, studying clean energy will allow students to apply creative ideas to solve environmental challenges.

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Union of Concerned Scientists; Natural Resources Defense Council

Educator Resources

Energy Kids Website (Teachers Section), U.S. Energy Information Administration
The Energy Kids Website offers lesson plans, experiments, field trip ideas and teacher guides. This government site offers activities for all ages.
Resource Type: Website
Grade Levels: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Kids: Be an Energy Star
Energy Star Kids is a government Website providing lesson plans, games and activities to help teachers instruct children how to become energy efficient.
Resource Type: Website
Grade Levels: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Exploring Fuel Economy and the Environment ( PDF, 429 KB, 7 pgs.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers an activity to teach high school students how to read and understand fuel economy and environment labels.
Resource Type: Activity
Grade Levels: 9-12

Exploring Fuel Economy and the Environment ( PDF, 381 KB, 7 pgs.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers an activity to teach middle school students how to read and understand fuel economy and environment labels.
Resource Type: Activity
Grade Levels: 5-8

Cool School Challenge
The Cool School Challenge is an activity that engages students and teachers in reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in schools. Students can challenge their classrooms to reduce their carbon emissions over a set period of time, using a carbon calculator to assess their efforts. This activity is aligned to the Eco-Schools USA program; schools that complete the Challenge qualify for a bronze-level award through the Eco-Schools USA program.
Resource Type: Activity
Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

EarthEcho
EarthEcho International’s Educator Resources include videos, lesson plans, and other materials intended to support classroom learning. Their tools assist educators in teaching students to explore and protect local natural resources. Many of the resources offered by EarthEcho are designed to satisfy Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Note: EarthEcho recommends using Chrome or Safari.
Resource Type: Website
Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12
Standards: Common Core

How to Measure Carbon Dioxide
EarthEcho’s video teaches students how to measure carbon dioxide. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues. Note: EarthEcho recommends using Chrome or Safari.
Resource Type: Video
Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

How is Electricity Generated
EarthEcho provides this worksheet for high school students to teach them the basics of how electricity is generated. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues. Note: EarthEcho recommends using Chrome or Safari.
Resource Type: Worksheet
Grade Levels: 9-12

How is Electricity Generated
EarthEcho provides this lesson plan to aid in teaching high school students the basics of how electricity is generated. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Grade Levels: 9-12

How is Electricity Generated
EarthEcho provides this lesson plan to aid in teaching middle school students the basics of how electricity is generated. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Grade Levels: 6-8

Energy Efficiency
EarthEcho provides this worksheet to help high school students learn the basics of energy efficiency. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues.
Resource Type: Worksheet
Grade Levels: 9-12

Energy Efficiency
EarthEcho provides this lesson plain to aid educators in teaching the basics of energy efficiency to high school students. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues. Note: EarthEcho recommends using Chrome or Safari.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Grade Levels: 9-12

Energy Efficiency
EarthEcho provides this lesson plain to aid educators in teaching the basics of energy efficiency to middle school students. This resource is among many provided by EarthEcho to support classroom learning on environmental issues. Note: EarthEcho recommends using Chrome or Safari.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Grade Levels: 6-8

Energy 101: Solar PV
National Geographic provides this video to explain how solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can generate clean and more efficient power, demonstrating how a PV panel converts energy from the sun.
Resource Type: Video
Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Energy 101: Wind Turbines
This video, provided by National Geographic, demonstrates how wind turbines generate clean electricity from wind power. The video touches on the different parts and mechanisms of a modern wind turbine.
Resource Type: Video
Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Energy Sources and Energy Use
National Geographic provides this activity for high school students to help them learn about the connection between energy use and pollution.
Resource Type: Activity
Grade Levels: 9-12

Energy Potential
A component of National Geographic’s Environmental Literacy Teaching Guide Series, Energy Potential is a guide for teaching energy to students in grades 3 through 8.
Resource Type: Lesson Plan
Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

Solar Energy and Diversifying Energy Resources
In this National Geographic activity, students learn about the pluses and minuses of solar energy by exploring a real conflict between farmers and environmentalists in California and a company that wants to build a solar farm. Middle school students will read a case scenario, identify the positives and negatives of having the solar farm, and write a position statement.
Resource Type: Activity
Grade Levels: 6-8

Energy 101: Biofuels
Energy 101: Biofuels is a video that teaches students how biomass is converted into clean, renewable transportation fuels to power cars, trucks, planes and trains. The video is provided by the U.S. Department of Energy and shared by National Geographic.
Resource Type: Video
Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

Natural Gas: a Cleaner Energy Solutions or Just Another Fossil Fuel?
National Geographic provides this activity to teach students to think through how natural gas compares to petroleum and coal in greenhouse gas emissions. Students will also learn about using a systems model in making energy decisions.
Resource Type: Activity
Grade Levels: 9-12

Plan it Green: The Big Switch
The Big Switch engages students in creating a green, eco-friendly city. This game is a partnership among National Geographic, General Electric and the Center for Science. An educator’s guide to the game is also available.
Resource Type: Activity, Educator’s Guide
Grade Levels: 6-8

 

Summary of Resources

There are some Websites offering a wide array of resources within (i.e., National Geographic) that are included as a whole. In addition, specific resources from within such sites are pulled out as individual entries to make it easy for educators to find. Those specific resources were chosen as they provided the most relevant content. Resources were also chosen to provide a balance – to the extent possible – of types of materials (e.g., video, activity) and audiences.

In general, resources were provided only from reputable sources that provide high-quality, thoughtful educator materials. Given the sensitive and political nature of energy debates, sources that did not appear balanced, well-referenced or aggressive in tone were not considered for inclusion.

Of note, if items happen to have the same title (e.g., Energy Efficiency) yet apply to more than one item (e.g., lesson plan and worksheet), the type of material is referenced in parentheses next to the title as well as within the tag in yellow. Otherwise, the type of material and audience, if available, is noted in the tag in yellow at the end of the description.

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