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Overarching learning goal: Students understand how energy from non-renewable resources can impact our environment, and understand that renewable energy is a viable alternative to energy from fossil fuels. Students recognise a range of different types of renewable energy and identify their benefits.

Teacher content information: Energy is the lifeblood of our modern life. It powers our industry, it fuels our cars, and charges our iPhones. The problem is that much of our energy is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, and this has a range of environmental, social and economic impacts, one being the emission of greenhouse gases.

However, there are a range of alternative energy sources that are sources from renewable resources and that have minimal environmental impacts. These include solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal. Some of these alternatives are well-known and might already be being used at home or at school, such as solar power or wind power. Others are not widely used or still being developed, such as tidal energy or wave energy. The important thing about these alternatives is that they come from renewable energy sources. Where coal is non-renewable because it can't be readily replaced by natural means, renewable resources can be readily replenished naturally. For example, as long as the sun shines we can have solar power. And for as long as the wind blows, we can have wind power. These sources of energy won't run out.

Useful definitions:

  • Energy - Scientists describe energy as the ability of a body or system to do work. Energy is all around us and is constantly changing. When you feel the warmth of the sun on your back you’re enjoying the heat energy from the sun. When you cook over a campfire you’re using heat energy converted from the stored energy in the wood you’re burning. There is energy in the food that we eat. This energy comes from plants who used the energy from the sun. And there is the energy we use for making electricity. In most parts of Australia, electricity comes from the heat produced when burning coal.
  • Electricity - Electricity is a form of energy. We use this energy in almost every aspect of our lives: heating and cooling, cooking, lighting, charging phones and computers, watching TV and listening to music, and even for charging (some of) our cars. In Australia, we get most of our electricity from burning coal. To convert coal to electricity it needs to be dug out of the ground and then burned, a process which releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and climate change. Using less electricity and finding alternative and greener sources of electricity - such as wind or solar - is essential to addressing climate change.
  • Renewable resource - Any resource, such as wood or solar energy, that can or will be replenished naturally in the course of time.
  • Non-renewable resource - Any natural resource from the Earth that exists in limited supply and cannot be replaced if it is used up.

Teaching sequence

10 minutes - Watching and reflecting on clip
20 minutes - Investigation into renewable energy technologies
20 minutes - Presentations and closing discussion
10 minutes - Reflection

Work through this resource material in the following sequence:

Step 1. Begin by explaining to students that most of our energy comes from burning coal, but that using coal to create electricity has negative impacts on our environment. The most significant of these impacts are that pollution created from burning coal causes air pollution (affecting both human and environmental health) and contributes to climate change. In addition, the mining of coal also negatively impacts our environment. Landscapes are dug up, natural habitats are altered and sometimes permanently damaged, and run off into waterways and the sea impacts aquatic environments.

However, there are alternatives to coal when looking at how to produce energy. Some of these alternatives are well-known and might already be being used at home or at school, such as solar power or wind power. Others are not widely used or still being developed, such as tidal energy or wave energy. The important thing about these alternatives is that they come from renewable energy sources. Where coal is non-renewable because it can't be readily replaced by natural means, renewable resources can be readily replenished naturally. For example, as long as the sun shines we can have solar power. And for as long as the wind blows, we can have wind power. These sources of energy won't run out.

Share the following clip with students, and ask them to take notes as they watch about things that they think are interesting or important about renewable energy.

Renewable Energy Explained in 2 1/2 Minutes (https://youtu.be/KEeH4EniM3E)

Once complete, engage students in a class discussion around what they saw in the video. Consider the following points in your discussion:

  • What things did you find interesting or important in this video?
  • What types of renewable energy were discussed in the video?
  • What benefits of renewable energy did you identify?
  • What do you still want to know about renewable energy?

Step 2. Now explain to students that they will be investigating some of these different types of renewable energy in more depth.

Working in groups they will investigate a renewable energy technology that promises to have less impact on our environment. They will:

  1. Use the evaluation criteria to describe the technology and if it is worth considering.
  2. Make a labeled diagram of the technology, describing in their words how they think it will work. 

renewable energy criteria

Divide the class into small groups to investigate one of the following:

  • Solar panels
  • Wind turbines
  • Hydropower electricity 
  • Biomass for making fuel
  • Geothermal for making electricity
  • Electric cars
  • Hydrogen fuel cell cars

Working in their groups, invite students to undertake research online to answer the evaluation criteria using the spaces provided on the Student Worksheet. Students are asked to get their information from two different websites. Remind students of the Search Strategies for Googling when undertaking research online.

Step 3. Once groups have completed their research, ask each group to prepare a short presentation (no more than 4 slides/1 minute to share what they found with the class. The presentation should include the hand drawn diagrams.

After the presentation, consider circulating the diagrams around the room so that small groups of students have a couple of minutes to look carefully at each. Engage students in a class discussion around their observations. Consider the following points:

  • Which technology is the most interesting and why?
  • What would you like to know more about?
  • How could you find out more?
  • Do you think technology has all the answers to problems in our environment? Why or why not?

Extend: Use the answers/questions generated by the students in your discussion to guide further research either in class or as homework.

Reflection

Working independently, invite student to reflect on what they looked at in this lesson by completing the following statements (also available on the Student Worksheet):

  • I used to think...
  • But now I think...