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5th Grade Inquiry Activities -- Alternative Energy Sources

Activity 1 – The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

To introduce this module, read: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. [We recommend the young readers edition. The adult book has a slightly different title, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: A Story of Passion and Hope. However, the You Tube video is excellent and will work if you cannot get the book. It is available in Spanish at]

Lead a class discussion through questions such as:

 What was the problem?
 What was the solution?
 Who benefited from this windmill?
 What do you know about windmills?
 What is your passion or hope?
 How can we help other people in our communities like William did?

man windmill

Activity 2 -- How Electricity Is Made

Before the students can explore alternative energy sources, they need an understanding of basic generation of electricity. Provide a transparent hand-held generator [available from science supply companies] so students can see that a magnet moving in a coil of wire causes the electrons to move in the wire. That flow of electrons can be measured and it can create heat, light, or motion. See How to Generate Electricity.Students can freely explore these items and then have a class discussion to show their understanding of how electricity is formed when a magnet forces the electrons to move in a wire.

magnet spool 1 generator 2

Activity 3 -- Energy from the Wind

Windmills can generate power by converting the wind energy into a pump OR generate electric power by spinning a magnet in a coil of wire (a turbine).

With the understanding of a magnet spinning in a coil of wire, the students can think about how a windmill might make electricity. The concepts are complex, but we found that a few students could discuss the importance of making the magnet spin.

Students can make a model of a windmill's pumping power and explore the effect of different variables on the energy it produces. To explore how the use of gears multiplies the output, see Alternative Energy Teacher Power Point.

bottle windmill

Activity 4 -- Solar Cells Capture the Sun's Energy to Create Electricity

Using solar cars, which are available from hobby shops and science supply houses, allow students to explore in teams to determine what they need to do capture the most sunlight -- changing the angle of the solar cell or the path of the car. In our classes, some children tried running the car on uneven surfaces. The teachers questioned them, "What do you think is wrong." Through team work and trial and error, the students eventually all had success.

Activity 5 -- The Basics of Bio Fuels: Cashew/Corn Chip Power

peanut 2peanut 1

[See projects/peanut.html for more details]. Students follow the directions to burn a cashew nut, walnut, or corn chip to heat water. (Caution: The activity calls for using a peanut. Because of the increase and severity of peanut allergies, we used corn chips.) For extensions to compare the energy in a corn chip, corn oil, or ethanol, please see the Please see the Alternative Energy Teacher Power Point

Activity 6 -- Guided Reading using Graphic Organizers

In order to organize the concepts and experiences, guide your students through the relevant material on ENERGY SOURCES from Energy Information Administration at They can present their understanding of important concepts about alternative energy in a graphic organizer.

Activity 7 – Reducing Energy Use at Our School

The students read the document Suggestions for Greener Schools, and they visited the district's Energy Page to see how much energy their school had used over the past years. They discussed times of high and low energy use. They realized that if they use less energy, they are, in the long run, reducing air pollution. Students used lessons learned from the activities and the information about Greener Schools to create a public announcement, video clip, lunchtime table talk, presentation to PTA, etc. that would help the school reduce energy use.

5th Introduction

5th Background Information

5th Inquiry Activities