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Renewable Energy: How can we keep our lights on?

Elementary, Middle


This STEM resource focuses on the topic of renewable energy and is comprised of three interrelated activities to help students discuss and explore this subject:

ACTIVITY #1: What keeps your lights on ?

In this preliminary activity the students are asked to investigate the source of electricity in their area. Students are encouraged to research online and to ask questions about where their electricity comes from.  In addition, the students are encouraged to share their results online via the "Schools Online" website with a partner school in another country.

ACTIVITY #2: Windmill Energy Challenge

In this group activity the students will construct miniature wind turbine blades and evaluate their effectiveness. Once again, the students are encouraged to share their designs with a partner school via the "Schools Online" network.

ACTIVITY #3: Solar Heating

In the final activity, individually or in a group, students will build a model of a solar heater and investigate how to make it most effective. The students can then compare their designs with other students via the "Schools Online" network.  They are also asked how the designs differ based on the weather in their area/country.

General Assessment


This resource has the following strengths:

  • interesting and engaging activities
  • good quantity of background information for teachers
  • cross-curricular activities 
  • good quantity of links and readings to research the questions further
  • network resources for classes to share their information with other schools from around the world


The resource has the following weaknesses:

  • a lack of assessment material
  • a lack of relevant case studies

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This resource would be beneficial for a teacher wishing to integrate STEM activities into their classroom.  It would be most applicable to students at the middle school level.

Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

  • Air, Atmosphere & Climate (3)

    • Air Pollution
    • Climate Change
    • Ozone Depletion
  • Energy (3)

    • Alternative Energy
    • Energy Generation
    • Energy Use

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

In the cross-curricular activities that are suggested, the students role play different perspectives during a debate regarding the building of a wind farm.

A chart is also included in the materials that examines the advantages and disadvantages of different types of alternative energy sources.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Satisfactory

Within the materials provided, a chart examines the advantages and disadvantages of different types of alternative energy sources. The teacher may have to supplement some of the social dimensions of the issue in order to effectively address all dimensions equally.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good
Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

There are a fair number of extension activities that provide students with an opportunity to work towards a positive change.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Poor/Not considered

This is not a focus of this resource

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

This is not a focus in this resource.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Good

Through the introductory video and the activities, the students can develop a concern for the natural world and the effect that energy consumption is having upon it.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

With the research question in Activity #1, students aim to learn the source of their electricity.  This helps to create an awareness and a relevancy of the issue for the students.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good

The resource presents ideas that can make a difference in energy consumption in the future as well as describing our current demands for energy.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

The students are able to choose their own direction when building their models of solar heaters as well as wind mill blades.  The questions that are provided for the teacher are open ended and allow for the students to make their own conclusions.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

The three core activities are definitely Science based lessons; however, the cross-curricular activities are more flexible in terms of subject area.

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good
Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.


Differentiated Instruction Satisfactory
Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory

The activities in the lesson are hands-on activities that provide a simulation for a real world context.

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Satisfactory
Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Poor/Not considered

This resource does not provide assessment and evaluation material.  

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

The only peer teaching that occurs is from presentations and the sharing of group work.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Satisfactory

In preparation for the role play activity students are directed to explore existing energy projects including China's Three Gorges Project. 

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good
Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.