Alternative Energy Part II (lesson eight of eight)

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

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

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


Engineering, Physical Science, Science Skills


Energy conversion and propulsion

Big ideas(s):

Alternative energy can be used to propel a car. Multiple trials and data collection can be used to test difference between each form of propulsion.

Vocabulary words:

sound, light, mechanical, chemical, heat, electrical, magnetic, atomic, energy, axle, body, wheel, solar panel, battery, motor, pulley

What you need:

Alternative modes of propulsion kit


pairs and divided according to which mode of propulsion they are using



Time needed:

1 hour 30 minutes

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

Student take their cars outside to a "time track" and a "distance track". They measure how fast their car goes 10 feet on the "time track" and how far their car goes in 30 seconds on the "distance track". They perform multiple trials, interpret their data, and predict which region in the world the car would be most suitable for.

Prerequisites for students: 

Student should be familiar with the different forms of energy and that they can be interconverted. Students should be able to make a prediction and design an experiment.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Learning Objectives 1) Become comfortable with recording numbers in a data table. Learn how to calculate speed from distance and time. 2) Review controls and variables in an experimental set-up. Language Goals 1) In the post-lesson activity students will practice writing about the energy vocabulary and should be able to use the words control, variable, test and experiment. 2) Reinforce energy vocabulary through discussion.

Content background for instructor: 


Getting ready: 

Measure and chalk the track on the playground outside.

Lesson Implementation / Outline


10’ Review what happened from the day before. They remind students of the four different types of propulsion systems and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. They now ask the class how a scientist could test the difference between the propulsion systems. Elicit from the class that speed and endurance would be the best test of the different propulsion systems. Hand out a data sheet with columns for time and distance traveled.


35’ Outside time. Assemble the class outside. Each pair must complete 5 trials with their car.

Checking for student understanding: 

15’ Discussion. Ask the class what worked and what did not work. They compare different propulsion systems. Describe the controls for each test (a car with one mode of propulsion versus a different car with the same mode of propulsion). The class then ranks which mode of propulsion was the fastest and which mode of propulsion would last the longest. Ask the class if under different conditions a different mode of propulsion would win. How would this effect where in the world you would want to build a car powered by different forms of alternative energy.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

The class moves inside and we review the different forms of energy, how they are converted, and what energy each mode of propulsion used.

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

Students take pictures of their cars. They diagram the different parts of the car and make an advertisement about the type of energy it runs on. They include how fast the car goes and under what conditions it would run the best.


This lesson worked with four instructors, so that each instructor could pair with a form of propulsion. The students got hot sitting out in the sun, so make sure you do explanations in the shade. Also, the balloons are fragile and should be blown up ahead of time.

Alternative Energy Part 2 student wksht.doc50.5 KB
NGSS Topics
Kindergarten through Grade 5: 
Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: 
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
Grade 4: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: