Energizing Everything!

By: Sharon Lee and Jean DeWitt, Fourth Grade West Teachers 
Fourth-grade science is all about studying systems to help others. Throughout April, students explored energy by defining what energy is, identifying different forms of energy, and understanding ways energy is transferred. They also investigated electricity by experimenting with ways to create electrical circuits. They were tasked with designing a chain reaction machine that utilizes energy transfers and conversions. 
Students had multiple opportunities to go to the ChangeMaker Lab to build their chain reaction machines. In each new session, they built upon what they learned from their previous session experiences and added new components to make their chain reaction machines more complex. First, students started by creating more roller coaster-type models, testing ideas about speed and height energy. They then added components to transfer energy, particularly using dominos or knocking over materials. In the last few sessions, they incorporated electricity into their machines. The process of designing a chain reaction machine required students to identify a goal, brainstorm and test multiple ideas, and problem-solve an optimal solution. Reflecting and sharing ideas was another integral part of the design process. Students reflected on their success as well as challenges to help them improve for the next iteration of their chain reaction machine. They also gained inspiration and help from each other through share-outs at the end of each session in the ChangeMaker Lab. 

In the upcoming weeks, this energy unit will transition to our end-of-the-year study of generators. Students will learn about renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, thinking about the question, “How can we design systems for more sustainable energy solutions?” They will then work together to design a generator using recycled materials and a renewable energy source. 


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