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Energy in the new curriculum: an opportunity for change

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Charles Tracy

Extract: A fresh look at how the recognised types of energy are classified. The National Curriculum for England has been revised and the statements on energy have some new phrasing and some new ideas. In this article, I will reflect on how these changes might be beneficial, relieving some of the strictures of previous drafts and providing opportunities to talk about energy in new, more constructive ways. I will discuss some approaches that support the new statements and that, I hope, provide ideas for developing ways of discussing energy more helpfully with students.

Ideas for a teaching sequence for the concept of energy

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Reinders Duit and Knut Neumann

Extract: Understanding the effects of energy within all the sciences. The energy concept is one of the most important ideas for students to understand. Looking at phenomena through the lens of energy provides powerful tools to model, analyse and predict phenomena in the scientific disciplines. The cross-disciplinary nature of the energy concept enables students to look at phenomena from different angles, helping them to develop a more integrated understanding of science. In this article we will discuss the role of four key ideas about the energy concept that students need to understand, namely energy transformation, transfer, degradation and conservation. Based on research showing that students progress from an initial understanding of energy transformation and transfer, through understanding degradation to finally understanding conservation, we will propose a teaching sequence that may help to successively build an integrated understanding of energy throughout physics instruction based on these key ideas.

Thermodynamics from car to kitchen

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Geoff Auty

Extract: A look at how everyday experience can help us to understand thermodynamics. The historical background to the laws of thermodynamics is explained using examples we can all observe in the world around us, focusing on motorised transport, refrigeration and solar heating. This is not to be considered as an academic article. The purpose is to improve understanding of thermodynamics rather than impart new knowledge, and for that reason the wording has been kept as simple as possible. This is intended to help non-specialists find a way in to a topic in which textbook presentations often seem obscure, and help specialist teachers offer their students examples to which they can readily relate before tackling the information examiners might demand.

Using ‘energy ideas’ in the teaching of biology

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Richard Needham

Extract: Would a change in terminology help avoid confusion or do we need to review the use of ‘energy’ in science teaching? ‘Energy ideas’ run through much of secondary school biology teaching. These ideas are not always consistent with each other or with the ideas used by other science disciplines. Would a change in terminology help avoid confusion or do we need to review the use of ‘energy’ in science teaching?

Blowing in the wind: a review of wind power technology

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Frank Harris

Extract: Is the revival of one of the oldest methods of harnessing energy viable or desirable? The use of wind as a replenishable energy resource has come back into favour in recent decades. It is much promoted as a viable, clean energy option that will help towards reducing CO2 emissions in the UK. This article examines the history of wind power and considers the development of wind turbines, together with their economic, environmental and technical implications.

The mighty atom? The development of nuclear power technology

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Frank Harris

Extract: What is the current state of probably the most controversial and most expensive power source to set up? The use of nuclear energy for the generation of electricity started in the 1950s and was viewed, at the time, as a source of virtually free power. Development flourished and some countries adopted the nuclear option as their principal source for producing electrical energy. However, a series of nuclear incidents and concern about the treatment of nuclear waste established such a perceived risk in the minds of the public that the British government has dithered indecisively over the role of nuclear power in the UK. This article examines the history of nuclear power, considers its progress and looks at the implications of future developments.

Osmotic power: a fresh look at an old experiment

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Pam Dugdale

Extract: Students are given the opportunity to try a lesser known method of providing an energy source. Electricity from osmotic pressure might seem a far-fetched idea but this article describes a prototype in Norway where the osmotic pressure generated between salt and fresh water drives a turbine. This idea was applied in a student investigation, where they were tasked with researching which alternative materials could be used for the semipermeable membrane and how advances in nanotechnology could provide a suitable material allowing full-scale power stations to be built. This link between nanomaterials and large-scale power production came as a surprise to the student group.

Biofuels: what are they and how can they improve practical work and discussions?

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Tristan MacLean

Extract: Deriving energy from new biological sources rather then fossilised remains. This article looks at the potential of bioenergy as a replacement for fossil fuels, the cutting-edge research being undertaken by scientists, and classroom resources available for teaching this topic. There is currently a large programme of scientific research aiming to develop advanced biofuels (replenishable liquid biofuels from non-food plants, algae and organic waste), along with an initiative to support teachers and engage the public. Advances in biofuel usage and technologies provide teachers with ample opportunity to discuss controversial issues and carry out practical work.

Exploring future energy choices with young people

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Ann MacGarry

Extract: Techniques to promote understanding of the choices that have to be made about energy use. The article outlines a couple of the most recent resources developed by the Centre for Alternative Technology for teaching about energy. The key elements are providing sound information on all the significant sources and inspiring pupils to make their own decisions about energy futures based on evidence. Our experience is that engaging pupils in this way counteracts the ‘doom and gloom’ that knowledge of climate change can lead to and leaves them feeling positive about the future. It certainly also draws some of them into careers in science and engineering.

Heat mining or replenishable geothermal energy? A project for advanced level physics students

Issue: September 2014 354

Author: Pam Dugdale

Extract: Students design their own experiments and analyses of a proposed low enthalpy geothermal energy scheme. There is growing interest in the use of low enthalpy geothermal (LEG) energy schemes, whereby heated water is extracted from sandstone aquifers for civic heating projects. While prevalent in countries with volcanic activity, a recently proposed scheme for Manchester offered the perfect opportunity to engage students in the viability of this form of energy capture. This article details how second-year advanced-level physics students (A2, age 17–18) were given the freedom to design their own experiments and analyses of the proposed LEG scheme. The project provided opportunities for the students to improve their understanding of thermal physics and the ‘How science works’ sections of the A2 syllabus, while building their teamworking skills.

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