Work and Energy Thinking Problems

University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group
Type Category
Assessment Materials
Problem Set
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.



This resource is a series of questions that help guide students to a better understanding of the Conservation of Energy. It starts by asking students to analyze the energies involved when a wagon is pushed up a hill, and proceeds to confront students with the question of whether or not work is truly being performed when they push against a wall. It finishes by having students analyze the energies of a model rocket launch.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-PS3-2 Develop and use models to illustrate that energy at the macroscopic scale can be accounted for as a combination of energy associated with the motions of particles (objects) and energy associated with the relative positions of particles (objects)

Clarification Statement: Examples of phenomena at the macroscopic scale could include the conversion of kinetic energy to thermal energy, the energy stored due to position of an object above the earth, and the energy stored between two electrically-charged plates. Examples of models could include diagrams, drawings, descriptions, and computer simulations.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The resource does not require students to develop models, but it does have students use models of energy to determine gravitational potential energy and kinetic energy in a few different situations. This resource could more fully address the Performance Expectation if it required students to develop models of energy.

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
The resource addresses the Practice because it asks a series of questions about energy and students must use calculations of the energies (potential and kinetic) to support and explain their answers that energy is conserved.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The resource fully addresses the Disciplinary Core Idea because it asks a series of questions about work and energy and students must use calculations of the energies to support their answers.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
To help students understand the Cross Cutting Concept of the conservation of energy, the instructor could pair this resource with an interactive resource such as the PhET Skate Park found here:

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource poses some good guided questions about work and the conservation of energy that requires students to use mathematical thinking to support their answers.

  • Instructional Supports: The resource is a worksheet with guided questions. The instructor could make good use of this resource by using it as part of a larger lesson; perhaps as pre-lab questions. While it does require them to use mathematical thinking to support their written responses, the resource may not be ideal for students who read below grade level, and it may make reference to some items such as model rockets, that not all students have personal experience with.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This resource poses some great guided questions meant to lead students to the Law of Conservation of Energy, and the questions could be used as a formative assessment. However, because the final section of the resource revolves around the energies of a model rocket, it may leave some students unsure how to answer if they have no personal experience with a model rocket. The instructor could show a video clip of a model rocket launch and discuss the energies during the launch before having the students work on the last section (supplemental problem).

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not use technology.