Are they really that different?

Author: Mark Roland


1 class period

Preparation Time:


Materials: Handouts

This lesson serves as an introduction to both the next unit and the second half of the quarter. The upcoming unit deals with electromagnetism and its use in turbines to generate electricity. With the exception of solar power, spinning a turbine generates almost all electricity. This is the realization that students should arrive at after this lesson. The difference between the various power generation plants in existence is just the force behind the turbines.
The rest of the quarter will be spent looking at some traditional sources of energy, coal and nuclear. These two sources of electricity are arguably the most detrimental to environmental health, and this idea will serve as a bridge into next quarter, which will focus on non-traditional and renewable energy sources.

Purpose – To engage students for this unit and the next few units in helping students make the connection between different forms of power generation.

Students will be able to:
1. List many different sources of electrical power.
2. Though discussion and in written response: Identify the commonalities of these various ways of generating electricity.
3. Develop written questions about the environmental impact of the electrical power sources.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard B-Physical Science
• Chemical reactions may release or consume energy. Some reactions such as the burning of fossil fuels release large amounts of energy by losing heat and by emitting light. Light can initiate many chemical reactions such as photosynthesis and the evolution of urban smog
• Electricity and magnetism are two aspects of a single electromagnetic force. Moving electric charges produce magnetic forces, and moving magnets produce electric forces. These effects help students to understand electric motors and generators.
• The total energy of the universe is constant. Energy can be transferred by collisions in chemical and nuclear reactions, by light waves and other radiations, and in many other ways. However, it can never be destroyed. As these transfers occur, the matter involved becomes steadily less ordered.
• All energy can be considered to be either kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion; potential energy, which depends on relative position; or energy contained by a field, such as electromagnetic waves.

Related and Resource Websites




1. Prior to class print out pages from the websites and photocopy in class packets. If you have enough computers in your classroom you can direct students to the sites for them to read online.

2. As students enter the classroom, have these questions on the board for students to respond to as best as they can. Explain to them that they will answer them as a group.

a. How is electricity generated?
b. What sources of electricity can you list?
c. What effect do these sources have on environmental health?

3. Go over the questions together. Accept all answers. These questions should serve as a way for you to gage your students’ knowledge about the topic. Save the list generated by questions on the board or overhead.

4. Distribute the handouts to your students. Students can work in groups or individually. Ask students to read through the packet keeping these questions in mind (Students can respond to them in their science notebooks):

a. How are all of these sources related? What aspect of their function is the same?
b. Energy is often converted from one form to another. What one source can almost all energy be traced back to if we look far enough?
c. Any new ideas about the impact on environmental health?

5. After students have finished, discuss their thoughts on the reading. Students should notice that all the sources in the reading generate their power through the use of turbines, even though the turbines may differ in the way they are spun. Ask students what they know about turbines. The one source of power that drives every source from the reading, except for tidal and geothermal, is the sun. This idea can serve as a reminder of some important ideas, such as conservation of energy, the water cycle, and the chemical potential energy of fossil fuels.

Have students fill out an exit card with three questions that they asked themselves during today’s class that were not answered. They can be about the various sources of electricity, or about turbines, or about environmental health. These will give you an idea of how much background knowledge the students have, what misconceptions need to be addressed, and where their curiosity lies in order to keep their engagement throughout the unit.

Embedded Assessment
Prior knowledge can be assessed through the first three questions on the board. Through reading response and exit questions students identify how the energy is generated, what is often the common source of energy and what potential environmental health hazards might be a result of electrical energy generation.

None, although a suggestion is to have students find an article related to electrical power, or do more in depth research on one of the sources of electrical power.

Embedded Assessment











PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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