Alternative Energy Part I (lesson seven of eight)

Author(s): Ben Engel, Arthur Millius, Lisa Monti, Helen Wong-Lew

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Grade 3, Grade 4


Engineering, Physical Science, Science Skills



Big ideas(s):

Using and converting alternative forms of energy to power a model car.

Vocabulary words:

sound, light, mechanical, chemical, heat, electrical, magnetic, atomic, energy

What you need:

Alternative modes of propulsion kit





Time needed:

1 hour

Author Name(s): 
Ben Engel, Arthur Millius, Lisa Monti, Helen Wong-Lew

Students design a car that could be powered without gasoline. A class discussion ensues on different energies you could use to power a car. The students receive a model car kit with alternative modes of propulsion and get to design a car based on a form of energy they choose.

Prerequisites for students: 

Student should be familiar with the different forms of energy and that they can be interconverted.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Learning Objectives 1) Consolidate ideas about energy and types of energy. 2) Develop thinking skills and generate questions from reading comprehension. Language Goals 1) Students should be able to read a scenario and consolidate ideas in the scenario to generate questions. The scenario will be presented in both English and Spanish to facilitate this. 2) Students should be able to write their ideas and present them orally in front of the class. 3) Reinforce energy vocabulary.

Content background for instructor: 

Teachers should be able to build each type of car.

Getting ready: 

Verify that all the parts are in each kit.

Lesson Implementation / Outline


10’ Introduce the engaging scenario: It is the year 2015 and the world has run out of gasoline. Transportation systems have screeched to a halt. World leaders have turned to you, an international group of renowned scientists to invent a car powered by alternative energy. Remember you have eight energies to choose from – solar, mechanical, electrical, sound, atomic, heat, light, and chemical energy. However, you may not use the chemical energy from oil or gasoline. You and your partner now have 10 minutes to figure out how to power your new car. Record your ideas in the space below.


15’ Focus the questions in class discussion. Ask students what the question or situation is. Also ask: What are the requirements to build a car (chassis, wheels, axle, motor or other method of propulsion)? What are the requirements for propulsion? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each mode of propulsion (weight, endurance, optimal under certain conditions, air resistance)? Write on the board the different ideas, questions, and merits of each comment from the class.

15’ The car kits are passed out to the class. With their partner they explore the kits. They also fill out a parts list, where they describe the part and explain its use (or type of energy involved). After filling out their parts list, they can begin assembling their car. Stop the class and review the parts on the parts list. Students make predictions about the type of propulsion that would be better under different conditions.

10’ Students have time to build their car.

Checking for student understanding: 

After the cars are passed out, but before students begin to build their car, we review what each part will do. After they build their cars, we review how each car only needs certain parts.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

15’ Students get up in front of the class in groups, describe their car and the energy it runs on. End telling the class what the plan is for the next day.

Extensions and Reflections


Originally, we thought we might be able to fit this lesson with the following one. However, it worked out much better to split the lesson in two. That gave us enough time to review what each part was doing in the car and what form of energy it was receiving and sending.

Alternative Energy Part 1 student wksht.doc225.5 KB
NGSS Topics
Kindergarten through Grade 5: 
Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: 
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
Grade 4: 
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 

Standards - Grade 3

Physical Sciences: 
1. Energy and matter have multiple forms and can be changed from one form to another. As a basis for understanding this concept:
b. Students know sources of stored energy take many forms, such as food, fuel, and batteries.
c. Students know machines and living things convert stored energy to motion and heat.
d. Students know energy can be carried from one place to another by waves, such as water waves and sound waves, by electric current, and by moving objects.
Investigation and Experimentation: 
5. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
d. Predict the outcome of a simple investigation and compare the result with the prediction.