Evaluating Other Energy Sources

Sarah Pryputniewicz, The Concord Consortium; High-Adventure Science
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.




The activity "Evaluating Other Energy Sources" is the fourth in a series of five lessons in the High-Adventure Science Energy Module “What Are Our Energy Choices?” Students use real-world data to evaluate the costs and benefits of using natural gas, coal, biomass, nuclear, wind, hydropower, and solar power for generating electricity. After a short class discussion of the effect on the environment of extracting energy resources, students work on a computer in small groups examining data and entering their answers to questions. Students access the online lesson at http://authoring.concord.org/sequences/123/activities/598?show_index=true. The link to this lesson is provided within the National Geographic lesson. The lesson cannot be downloaded so student access to computers is necessary for the lesson.


Teachers can access and save students' data for online grading through a link on the High-Adventure Science portal page https://has.portal.concord.org/?prioritize=109&priority_type=external_activity.

A link to the Teacher’s Guide with answers to the questions can be found on this website once a teachers has registered with High-Adventure Science.


This is Activity 4 in a unit of five lessons. The first lesson explores electricity, the second focuses on extracting natural gas from shale, the third evaluates the use of natural gas, and the fifth focuses on energy efficiency in homes.


The author suggests the activity takes one class period to complete, but it may take longer depending on the class discussion.



Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 9
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 12
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-2 Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing, and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the conservation, recycling, and reuse of resources (such as minerals and metals) where possible, and on minimizing impacts where it is not. Examples include developing best practices for agricultural soil use, mining (for coal, tar sands, and oil shales), and pumping (for petroleum and natural gas). Science knowledge indicates what can happen in natural systems—not what should happen.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The activity addresses the Performance Expectation in several ways. The initial discussion asks students about their prior knowledge of the impact energy resources have on the environment. The cost-benefit ratio of various energy resources is addressed throughout the lesson - in Questions 10-19 in the online portion, the discussion questions and Informal Assessment questions at the end of the lesson. The teacher would need to ask students to make a decision about which energy resources would compose the best solution. Most of the online questions are multiple choice so the teacher would need to reframe them to engage students in the three dimensions. A cost-benefit ratio attempts to summarize the overall value of a factor in a project or system. The activity asks students to assess the efficiency and renewability of energy resources as well as their impact on Greenhouse gas levels and the environment. The teacher would have to use another resource for addressing mineral resources, such as http://study.com/academy/lesson/processing-impact-of-minerals-lesson-plan.html.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students evaluate solutions to the generation of energy through the analysis of graphs, maps, and tables of data. They consider costs and benefits of using natural gas, coal, biomass, nuclear, wind, hydropower, and solar power to generate electricity. They are asked which method of electric generation is the most efficient. To further address the Science and Engineering Practice, the teacher should ask students to describe the optimum system of electric generation in the US and then defend and refine their plan.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students analyze various forms of energy production and environmental costs and risks as well as benefits of each type. The lesson includes data on newer technologies such as wind and solar power used to generate electrical power. The teacher could ask questions about the social and geopolitical impact of energy production. For example, what happens when the United States doesn’t have the energy reserves required to generate the electricity the country uses? What impact would this have on society?

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The discussion questions and the Informal Assessment at the end of the lesson ask students to examine how changing the system of generating electricity in the United States may have unequal effects on global warming, water supply and land resources. For example, students may respond that renewable resources take up a lot of land and they aren’t as energy dense as fossil fuels. Some of these effects may be irreversible in their impact on the atmosphere or water supply, for example. The teacher will need to point out that design changes may not always lead to the desired effect.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: In the lesson, students use the three dimensions to some degree while evaluating forms of energy production in the United States. Students investigate the Disciplinary Core Idea of associated economic and environmental costs, risks, and benefits of various power sources by examining graphs, maps and tables of data. They use the Science and Engineering Practice of evaluating solutions and considering tradeoffs between the energy sources. The Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect is implied when students examine how reliance on energy sources may not have equal effects on the environment. The teacher will need to add discussion questions to lead students to integrating the three dimensions , especially in changing energy systems to lessen impact on the environment.

  • Instructional Supports: Students investigate the generation of electric power through media representations of scientifically accurate and grade-appropriate scientific information. The lesson personalizes the lesson for students in questions about generation of electric power in their community. Questions are also asked about where sources are most prevalent across the United States. Students select the most efficient source of electricity and discuss their level of certainty in their selection. Students are asked to express, clarify, and justify their ideas. Strategies for obtaining peer and teacher feedback is not part of the lesson, but once students have submitted their answers online the teacher can provide feedback. The lesson would build on students’ prior learning if they were to do the previous lessons in the series. Limited guidance is provided in supporting differentiated instruction as the lesson suggests several options for grouping students. National Geographic provides a link to background information and vocabulary for the lesson at https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/evaluating-other-energy-sources/.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Introductory and summary discussion questions and informal assessment questions are provided in the National Geographic portion of the lesson to assess student understanding before and after they complete the online portion of the lesson. The lesson elicits direct, observable evidence of students using the Practice of examining solutions and the Crosscutting Concept of cause and effect to evaluate energy sources in the online portion of the lesson. Answers to the questions are provided in the Teacher’s Guide. No rubrics and scoring guidelines are provided although the answers are explicit and detailed enough to support teachers in assisting student learning. Students answer questions throughout the online portion of the lesson, but it doesn’t serve as formative assessment. Feedback can be provided once the students have submitted their answers online.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Technological interactivity is not a requirement of the lesson, although students are required to access the data and answer the questions online.