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Conservation of Energy Activities

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

While the concept of conserving energy is abstract, teaching it to your students doesn't have to be. These activities are designed to engage your students in hands-on learning so they can prove that the law of conservation of energy is true.

Conservation of Energy

Energy is an abstract concept in our lives when you think about it. While we see evidence of it every minute of the day, it is not something we can point to and say, 'that is energy,' like we can with a piece of granite or a sunflower. As a result, when designing activities for students, you have to get them to tune in to all the indirect evidence they can see to prove that energy is always conserved. Let's explore some conservation of energy activities.

Energy Saving Pendulums

Pendulums are an easy way to demonstrate conservation of energy to students. You can create pendulums to test in the classroom with very few materials. Additionally, there are many practical examples of pendulums, from grandfather clocks to equipment used to monitor and study earthquakes.

Materials

  • fishing weight
  • fishing line
  • yardstick
  • piece of poster board marked with a grid pattern
  • masking tape
  • red marker

Procedure

  • Explain to students that the law of conservation of energy states that that energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be transferred from one object to another. If this law weren't true, a pendulum would never work. It would stop moving very quickly.
  • Have students tape the grid paper against a wall. On either side of the grid paper, position two chairs no wider than the length of the yardstick. They should mark a line down the center line of the grid on the wall so that it is halfway between each chair.
  • At the midpoint of the yardstick, have students tie a piece of fishing line. At the end of the line, they can attach their weight. The yardstick can stick atop the chairs to allow the pendulum to swing.
  • Have students raise the fishing weight slightly to the right of the center line and make a mark on the grid paper before they release it. They should let it swing a few minutes and mark the highest point it reaches on the left side of the grid paper.

sample of marking data for pendulum
pendulum marks example

  • Students should repeat this process for 2-3 different heights of their choosing.
  • Students should notice the height of the raise of the pendulum is equal to the same distance past the center line it travels.
  • Explain to students that the distance between how far the pendulum is lifted and travels is due to the conservation of energy. When you raise the pendulum to a point, it has a specific amount of potential energy. That energy is transformed into an equal amount of kinetic energy, allowing the pendulum to move to the same height on the paper.

Cheetos Calorimeters

Materials

  • soda can
  • metal pie plate
  • ring stand
  • mesh plate large enough to sit on top of your ring stand
  • measuring cup
  • water
  • Cheetos
  • graduate cylinder
  • lighter or matches

Procedure

  • Explain to students that when you read a package of food, you'll see a measurement known as 'calories.' Each calorie of energy, when burned, will raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius.
  • Setup your calorimeter by first placing the ring stand in the metal pie plate. Next, set the mesh on top of the ring stand. Your soda can should fit on top of the ring stand.
  • Allow a student to measure 20 mL of water and add it to the soda can.

calorimeter setup
conservationofenergyimage3

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