Open-and-go lessons that inspire kids to love science.

Science curriculum for K—5th grades.

90 sec
  • Hands-on lead students in the doing of science and engineering.
  • NGSS-aligned and Common Core make the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards and support Common Core.
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Energizing Everything

Energy, Motion, & Electricity

3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade

NGSS Standards covered: 4-PS3-4 , 4-PS3-3 , 3-5-ETS1-1 , 3-5-ETS1-2 , 4-PS3-2 , 4-ESS3-1 , 3-5-ETS1-3 , 4-PS3-1
This introductory energy unit will encourage students to think about the energy that things need to move. Students will explore how energy makes things go, from powering vehicles to moving one’s body. Students will experiment with rubber bands to discover the relationship between how much energy is stored in a material and how much is released. They will investigate the role that hills play in making roller coasters move and the energy transfer that happens when two objects collide. Students will realize that thinking about the world in terms of energy helps them make sense of how and why things speed up and slow down. Hands-on activities focus on engineering, testing hypotheses and using results to develop their ideas. Less
  1. Lessons
  2. Activity Prep
  3. Assessments

Mystery 1: Speed & Energy

Twist-O-Matic Tester

THIS LESSON WAS REVISED ON APRIL 27, 2019. Here is a link to the previous version.
In this Mystery, students learn that we use the energy from food to make our bodies move just like cars use the energy from gasoline to move. In the activity, Twist-o-matic Tester, students build paper models of an amusement park ride called the Twist-o-Matic. The ride stores energy in rubber bands and spins around when the energy is released. Students compare the speed of the spins when they use a thin rubber band versus a thick rubber band.

Number of students:
Twist-O-Matic worksheet
Students working alone will need 2 copies of this template.
Print 30 copies
Twist-O-Matic Challenges worksheet Print 30 copies
Twist-O-Matic Challenges Answer Key worksheet Print 1 copy
Crayons
Each student needs two colors that can be easily distinguished from one another, like orange and blue.
Details
60
Hardcover Books
Books must be heavy enough to keep a ruler hanging halfway off a table.
Details
30 books
Rulers
30 rulers
Scissors
30 pairs
Rubber Bands (#16)
Any rubber band that is 1/16" wide.
Details
15 bands
Rubber Bands (#62)
Any rubber band that is 1/4" wide.
Details
15 bands
Small Binder Clips (3/4")
60 clips
Prep Instructions

We recommend students work in pairs. Homeschool students can work on their own, but they will need to make two models so that they can compare and contrast what happens when using the thin versus thick rubber band.

Prepare the Classroom Space

Student pairs will need to set up two Twist-O-Matic models next to each other for easier comparison between the thin and thick rubber bands. Each model takes up the space of about one student desk, so it is easiest if student pairs are sitting next to one another.

Mystery 2: Collisions & Energy Transfer

Bumper Coasters (Part I)

THIS LESSON WAS REVISED ON JULY 1, 2019. Here is a link to the previous version.
In this Mystery, students explore how energy can be stored as height. In the activity, Bumper Coasters (Part I), students add hills to the paper roller coaster they built in Mystery 2. Students release marbles down the roller coaster track to deepen their understanding of height energy and energy transfer.

Number of students:
Alligator worksheet Print 8 copies
Bumper Coaster Part I Answer Key worksheet Print 1 copy
Bumper Coaster Part I Tracks worksheet Print 8 copies
Collision Experiments worksheet Print 15 copies
Distance & Height Experiments worksheet Print 30 copies
Box
Any box measuring 20 cm (or 8”) high will work. The most important thing is to have enough space for the track and the students to work. A stack of books will also work. You can even use empty space on the wall to attach the roller coaster, as long as the track sits at 20 cm (8” high).
Details
8 boxes
Pencil
8 pencils
Rulers
8 rulers
Scissors
8 pairs
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
Tape also works. We prefer stickers because they are easier to distribute in a classroom.
Details
16 stickers
Paper Clips
104 clips
Small Marbles
32 marbles
Prep Instructions

NOTE: If you want to make Bumper Coasters with foam tubing, you can view the previous version of this lesson.

This activity works best when students work in groups of 4. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need to build all four pieces of their roller coaster track.

Make Sure You Have Enough Space

Each roller coaster extends about 1.2 meters (a little over 4 feet) from the box, stack of books, wall, or other surface that it’s attached to. Each group of students will need this amount of space to work through the activity. If you don’t have enough floor space, a few student desks pushed together with a stack of books on top should work.

Prepare Stickers

Cut enough stickers so that you have two for each group of students that will build a roller coaster. The stickers need to be no wider than 2 centimeters so that they can fit and adhere to the roller coaster track.

Decide Where to Store Your Tracks

If you will be teaching Bumper Coasters Part II (Mystery 3), then you must save the tracks and the alligator that each group makes in this Mystery. Each set can be stored as pictured below and measures about 82 cm x 8 cm (32” x 3”). We show you how to deconstruct your bumper coaster in this step.

Stacked Tracks

Estimate Your Time Needs

This entire Mystery with the activity will take about an hour or slightly more. There are two natural stopping points during the activity ⁠— the first one when students finish building their roller coaster tracks and a second one after they complete their first set of experiments. If you are pressed for time or have a short class period, we recommend splitting this lesson into shorter sessions that might work better for you.


Teacher Tip

Experimenting with marbles is fun, but it can also be distracting! We recommend waiting to distribute the marbles and worksheets until after students have built all of their roller coaster tracks.

Mystery 3: Energy Transfer & Engineering

Bumper Coasters (Part II)

THIS LESSON WAS REVISED ON JULY 1, 2019. Here is a link to the previous version.
In this Mystery, students will explore how high the hills of a roller coaster can be. In the activity, Bumper Coasters (Part II), students add hills to the Bumper Coaster they built in Mystery 2 and experiment to build a deeper understanding of hills and energy.

Number of students:
Bumper Coaster Hill Tracks worksheet Print 8 copies
Bumper Coaster with Hills worksheet Print 30 copies
Bumper Coaster with Hills Answer Key worksheet Print 1 copy
Low Hills, Medium Hills, and Hill Holder worksheet Print 8 copies
Box
Any box measuring 20 cm (or 8”) high will work. The most important thing is to have enough space for the track and the students to work. A stack of books will also work. You can even use empty space on the wall to attach the roller coaster, as long as the track sits at 20 cm (8” high).
Details
8 boxes
Bumper Coaster Tracks and Alligator from Energizing Everything Mystery 2
8 set of tracks and alligators
Pencil
30 pencils
Rulers
8 rulers
Scissors
30 pairs
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
Tape also works. We prefer stickers because they are easier to distribute in a classroom.
Details
16 stickers
Paper Clips
144 clips
Small Marbles
16 marbles
Prep Instructions

NOTE: If you want to make Bumper Coasters with foam tubing, you can view the previous version of this lesson.

We recommend students work in the same groups of four from Mystery 2. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need to build all roller coaster tracks and hills.

Make Sure You Have Enough Space

Each roller coaster with hills extends about 1.2 meters (a little over 4 feet) from the box, stack of books, wall, or other surface that it’s attached to. Each group of four students will need this amount of space to work through the activity. If you don’t have enough floor space, a few student desks pushed together with a stack of books on top should work.

Estimate Your Time Needs

The entire Mystery with the activity will take about an hour. There is a natural stopping point after students finish building their roller coaster tracks and before they start experimenting. If you are pressed for time or have a short class period, we recommend splitting this lesson into two sessions.

Prepare Materials

Cut enough stickers so that you have two for each group of four students that will build a roller coaster. The stickers need to be no wider than 2 centimeters so that they can fit and adhere to the roller coaster track.

Teacher Tip

Experimenting with marbles is fun, but it can also be distracting! We recommend waiting to distribute the marbles and worksheets until after students have finished building their tracks and hills.

Mystery 4: Energy Transfer & Engineering

Build a Chain Reaction (Part I)

In this Mystery, students construct an explanation of how energy is stored, released, and transferred in chain reactions, such as falling dominoes. In the activity, Build a Chain Reaction (Part I), students are presented with an engineering design challenge to create their own chain reaction machine--a project they will continue in Mystery 5. Students experiment with a “Chain-Reaction Starter Kit.” This kit includes a lever and a ramp, which serve as the first two steps of a chain-reaction machine.

Number of students:
Chain-Reaction Starter Kit worksheet Print 30 copies
Marble Corral worksheet Print 30 copies
Markers
Must be at least 1/2" in diameter because it will serve as the fulcrum of a lever.
Details
30 markers
Rulers
30 rulers
Scissors
30 pairs
Dixie Cups (3 oz)
30 cups
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
We prefer stickers because they are easier to distribute in a classroom. Or pieces of tape.
Details
90 labels
Paper Clips
30 clips
Paper Cups (8 oz)
Cup cannot be more than 4" tall.
Details
30 cups
Rubber Bands (#32)
30 bands
Small Marbles
1/2" marbles will also work.
Details
30 marbles
Prep Instructions

We recommend that students work in pairs. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need a partner to help with some steps.

Plan Ahead

We strongly recommend pairing this Mystery with Mystery 5, “Can you build a chain reaction machine?” If you plan to do Mystery 5, don’t throw away the ramps that your students build in this Mystery. Students will use these ramps when creating their very own chain reaction machine.


Classroom Management Tip

Marbles are very fun, but can be very distracting! We suggest waiting to distribute marbles to students until Step 17 of the activity.

Mystery 5: Energy Transfer & Engineering

Build a Chain Reaction (Part II)

In this Mystery, students learn about storing, releasing, and transferring energy. In the activity, Build a Chain Reaction (Part II), students complete the chain-reaction machine they started building in Energizing Everything Mystery 4.

Number of students:
Chain-Reaction Starter Kit worksheet Print 30 copies
Pop-Up Sign worksheet Print 30 copies
Hardcover Books
45 books
Lever from Energizing Everything M4
15 built levers
Markers
15 markers
Ramp from Energizing Everything M4
15 built ramps
Scissors
15 pairs
Dixie Cups (3 oz)
15 cups
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
We prefer stickers because they are easier to distribute in a classroom. Or pieces of tape.
Details
60 labels
Index Cards (3x5)
15 cards
Paper Clips (Jumbo)
Double the quantity if using normal-sized paper clips (do not use tiny).
Details
60 clips
Small Marbles
1/2" marbles will also work.
Details
15 marbles
Prep Instructions

We recommend that students work in pairs. Homeschool students can work on their own.

Plan Ahead

To complete this mystery, students will need the ramps and levers they built in Mystery 4.

Students can also add a variety of materials to extend their chain-reaction machines. You can ask them to bring things in, or gather some basic materials to keep in the classroom. See the list below for items we recommend having on hand. Or, for more ideas, watch "Inspiration for Chain Reaction Builders" in Extras before you start this activity to see some possibilities.

  • Extra printouts of the “Chain-Reaction Starter Kit” handout from Mystery 4 (in case students want to make more ramps)
  • Card stock for making custom-built ramps
  • Paper cups to serve as ramp supports
  • Books and boxes to add height
  • Dominoes or objects that will topple like dominoes (dominoes built of LEGO bricks, cassette tapes, paperback books, markers standing on end, etc.)
  • String
  • More stickers
  • Things that roll (empty cans, toy cars, rubber balls, markers lying down, toilet-paper tubes)
  • Unconventional ramps (like empty binders)


Classroom Management Tip

Marbles are very fun, but can be very distracting! We suggest waiting to distribute marbles to students until Step 14 of the activity.

Mystery 6: Electrical Energy

Build a Flashlight

In this Mystery, students are introduced to electricity as a form of energy. In the activity, Build a Flashlight, students investigate how electrical energy requires a circuit and make their own mini flashlights from LEDs, button batteries, and strips of aluminum foil. Along the way, they’ll learn about the anatomy of a battery, begin to see how circuits work, and discover how handy an on-off switch can be.

Number of students:
Flashlight Maker worksheet Print 30 copies
Scissors
30 pairs
Aluminum Foil
10 feet
File Folder Labels (Stickers)
Masking tape will also work. We prefer stickers for ease of distribution in a classroom.
Details
120 labels
Index Cards (3x5)
30 cards
Batteries (3V 2032 button)
Each student needs one battery. We suggest purchasing a few more in case some don't work.
Details
30 batteries
LEDs
Each student needs at least one LED, but it's ideal to have more for additional experimentation. We recommend getting an assortment of colored LEDs.
Details
90 LEDs
Prep Instructions

We recommend that students work in pairs. Homeschool students can work on their own.

Prepare Aluminum Foil

For each student, tear off a strip of aluminum foil that’s about 4 inches wide and as long as the roll (usually about 12 inches).

Teacher Note

If you purchase the batteries in advance, please read this document for how to safely store them.

Mystery 7: Heat Energy & Energy Transfer

Heat Spinner

In this Mystery, students explore how heat is another form of energy that can make things go. In the activity, Heat Spinner, students first make a paper Heat Spinner and observe how air can create movement. Then, students use their Heat Spinners to experiment with a heat source (an incandescent bulb) and discover how heat energy can make the spinner move in different ways.

Number of students:
Do Not Touch The Light Bulb! worksheet
You need 1 sign for each Heat Spinner Station with a lamp.
Print 1 copy
Get to Know Your Spinner worksheet Print 15 copies
Heat Spinners worksheet Print 8 copies
Inventing a Heat Engine worksheet Print 30 copies
Desk Lamp
Used as a heat source for Experimental Stations. Heat gel packs like these can also work, but they’ll only stay warm for 30 minutes.
Details
2 lamps
Rulers
30 rulers
Scissors
30 pairs
Paper Cups (8 oz)
15 cups
Pencils w/ Erasers
15 pencils
Pipe Cleaners
15 pipe cleaners
Push Pins
15 pins
Rubber Bands (#32)
30 bands
Incandescent Bulbs (40W)
Not needed if you're using heat gel packs as a heat source.
Details
2 bulbs
Prep Instructions

In Part 1 of this activity, we recommend students work in pairs. In Part 2 of this activity, we recommend students work in groups of four. Homeschool students can work on their own, but will need someone to help with a few of the steps.

You need to set up at least two Experimental Stations with a heat source (a desk lamp with an incandescent bulb or a heated gel pack. You can heat the gel packs in the microwave, but they’ll only stay warm for about 30 minutes). For a class of 32 students, we recommend having two or more Experimental Stations. Four students will use each station at a time. When students are not using the Experimental Stations, they will be discussing ideas at their desks.

Plan Your Time

Part 1 (building a Heat Spinner) takes 15 to 20 minutes. Part 2 (experimenting with the Heat Spinners) takes another 15 to 20 minutes.

You may want to divide this lesson into two sessions, stopping after Part 1 and continuing with the Experimental Stations another day. If you plan to do the activity in two sessions, Part 2 begins here.

Prepare Push Pins (Optional)

Push each push pin into the eraser of a pencil. This makes the push pins easier for students to handle.

Prepare the Worksheets

Cut each “Get to Know Your Spinners” printout on the dotted line. Each student needs a half sheet. Cut each “Heat Spinners” printout on the dotted line. Each pair of students needs a half sheet. Cut the “Do Not Touch the Light Bulb!” printout on the dotted line to make two signs. You need one sign for each Experimental Station with a lamp.

Set Up Your Experiment Stations

To set up each station, place your heat source on a table away from drafts. If you are using a lamp as a heat source, put the “Do Not Touch the Light Bulb!” sign beside the lamp, plug the lamp in, and let it warm up for a few minutes before students experiment. If you’re using heat gel packs, heat them in the microwave right before class.

Watch Our Video for An Important Tip

Watch this video and notice when the spinner moves and when it stops. The spinner moves because rising hot air pushes on it. That rising air has to come from somewhere. In the video, the spinner moves when there’s a gap between the heat source and the cup. Cool air moves through this gap and replaces the rising hot air. This is called the “chimney effect,” and it can make a big difference in how much the spinner moves. We like to use a lamp because students usually don’t set the cup directly on top of the heat source. If you use a gel pack or some other heat source, be aware that closing off the bottom of the cup completely can stop the circulation of air and therefore the movement of your spinner.

Mystery 8: Renewable Energy & Natural Resources

Power this Town

In this Mystery, students analyze the advantages and disadvantages of different sources of energy, including burnable fuels and alternative (renewable) energies. In the activity, Power this Town, students obtain and combine information about wind energy, solar energy, and water energy. They use this information to determine the best alternative energy sources for a town called Boulderville.

Number of students:
Energy Plan worksheet Print 30 copies
Energy Plan Answer Key worksheet Print 1 copy
Energy Signs worksheet Print 1 copy
Wind, Sun, & Water Energy worksheet Print 30 copies
Wind, Sun, & Water Energy Answer Key worksheet Print 1 copy
Prep Instructions

We recommend students work in pairs. Homeschool students can work on their own.

Set Up Classroom for Discussion

Place each Energy Sign in a separate area of the room so that students can easily see them.


Teacher Tip

Some classes may want to do research on the towns we featured in the readings. All of them are real towns, but we changed the name of one town. We called the solar-powered town in Florida “Ranchtown,” but the actual name is “Babcock Ranch.”