Conversion of energy into different forms (lesson two 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


Physical Science


Energy conversion

Big ideas(s):

Energy may be converted from one form to another.

Vocabulary words:

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

What you need:

Flash paper (or any paper that can burn), rubberband, mechanical crank, radiometer kit (SEP Call number = E218).


pairs in a circle



Time needed:

1 hour

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

Students investigate flash paper, rubber bands, a mechanical crank, and a radiometer to determine the energy conversion occurring in each.

Prerequisites for students: 

Students should be aware of the different forms of energy.

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

1) Learn that energy can be converted from one form to another. 2) Learn that one type of energy can give rise to multiple different energies. 3) Think creatively about designing experiments.

Getting ready: 


Lesson Implementation / Outline


5’ Instructor continues the story: From your observations about different types of energy, a few very bright 3rd graders notice that objects can have multiple different types of energy. For instance, a light bulb uses electrical energy and gives off heat and light energy. These smart students decide to further investigate how energy can be converted from one form to another. Students break up into two groups and work with their science partners from last time.


10’ FLASH PAPER: Instructor demonstrates what happens when you burn a piece of flash paper and discuss energy conversion in general. Here, chemical energy is converted to light and heat energy. 10’ RUBBER BAND: Instructor hands a rubberband to everyone. S/he asks students to try stretching or contracting the rubber band when it is near their lips or forehead. Class discusses how mechanical energy can be converted into heat energy. They also ask what would happen to the rubber band if you warmed or cooled it. Here, heat energy is changed into mechanical energy. 10’ MECHANICAL CRANK: Show them a crank that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.  Hook up an LED or motor to demonstrate that these items can be powered by the electrical energy generated from the crank. The crank is passed around and the students try it. 30’ RADIOMETER: Investigation of radiometer in pairs. Students first follow the worksheet to see the effect of light and heat on the radiometer. The light energy is converted into heat energy which drives mechanical work. Students follow a worksheet and then they can design their own experiments with the materials available. Instructors float from group to group answering questions and suggesting things for experiments. For example, does sound have an effect on the radiometer? What about cooling it down with ice? It’s important that the students are allowed to come up with their experiments.

Checking for student understanding: 

Ask the students questions and discuss the experiment after each one.

Wrap-up / Closure: 

5’ Instructor explains what happened with the radiometer and perhaps demonstrate a few of the key experiments.  Review the concept of energy conversion.  Highlight that one type of energy can give rise to multiple types. Emphasize that science is about designing your own experiments and answering the questions that you think to come up with.

Extensions and Reflections


This lesson really complemented the first energy lesson nicely. Students were already familiar with the different forms of energy, so it was easier for them to grasp the conception that energy could be converted from one form to another. However, the radiometer worksheet may have been a little much for them to complete. Additionally, the radiometers were difficult to get to work with flashlights indoors. You really need a bright spotlight (we used several flashlights).

Energy conversion student wksht.doc33 KB
NGSS Topics
Kindergarten through Grade 5: 
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
Grade 4: 
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 
NGSS Topics Engineering, Technology and Applications of Science: 

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.
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:
a. Repeat observations to improve accuracy and know that the results of similar scientific investigations seldom turn out exactly the same because of differences in the things being investigated, methods being used, or uncertainty in the observation.
d. Predict the outcome of a simple investigation and compare the result with the prediction.
e. Collect data in an investigation and analyze those data to develop a logical conclusion.