Global Energy Flows

Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Graph , Informative Text , Model
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 activity is divided into four parts. In the first part, students will analyze data detailing global energy sources and sinks (uses). In the second part, students construct a model to show energy sources and sinks.  In the third part, students are lead through discussions of scale, historical, socio-environmental and geographic variations in the data and implications of future energy use in terms of increasing use of biofuels. In the assessment activity, students use the information from parts one - three to develop a new energy source and sink model predicting what they think will change in twenty years.


The suggested time for this activity is one-two, 50 minute class periods. Teachers will need to download the Global Energy Flows Package zip folder which contains all materials (Teacher Instructions, Answer Key, Student Pages, Global Energy Flow Graph Slide Set, Supplement and a Student Reading). The student reading file does not open, but teachers can use this link: to access the reading. Teachers can choose between two options in Part 2 that would allow them to either extend or shorten the time on the activity. Teachers will need to make sure they preview the order in which pieces of information need to be presented to students in order to not give them too much information too early. This is not explicitly discussed in the teacher pages. For example, students should only be presented with page three of the student pages when doing option one of part two. It would be helpful to make color copies of figures 3, 4, and 5.

Intended Audience

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-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
Students are continuously discussing and thinking about how and where different fuel sources are used globally. Throughout the activities, the focus is on the increased use of biofuels and the implications of this (socio-economic and environmental). Cost-benefit ratios are not explicitly discussed, but students are asked to think about ranking energy sources as a result of their greenhouse gas emissions. To further investigate cost-benefit ratios, students should incorporate into their assessment social, economic, and environmental impacts of changing energy sources in their predicted models. Students could be introduced to this by reading the supplemental article, “Energy Goes with the Flow.”

HS-ESS3-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of key natural resources include access to fresh water (such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater), regions of fertile soils such as river deltas, and high concentrations of minerals and fossil fuels. Examples of natural hazards can be from interior processes (such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes), surface processes (such as tsunamis, mass wasting and soil erosion), and severe weather (such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts). Examples of the results of changes in climate that can affect populations or drive mass migrations include changes to sea level, regional patterns of temperature and precipitation, and the types of crops and livestock that can be raised.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This performance expectation is covered in part one where students discuss what they would expect to see in the presented pie graphs in developing versus developed countries. Students again think about availability of resources in part two where students are asked to think about where biomass is used on greater amounts globally. Students again talk about implications of where biomass is the primary source of energy in part three during the discussion of slide 14. Students should notice that developing countries have higher uses of biofuels than developed countries. Students may need more evidence into the uses of biomass in developing countries and why they use biomass rather than other types of fuel sources for energy. To fully explore this, students could do a second activity, “Energy and the Poor: Black Carbon” (

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
This science and engineering practice is only incorporated if teachers have students design their visual model of global energy use in part two. If teachers chose to do the shorter option, this science and engineering practice is not present in the activity.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Throughout the activity, students are asked to look at various charts, graphs, tables, and short readings to answer questions about energy use, loss, and make predictions about the future. Students focus is on integration of the information to complete the part four, assessment, where they are asked to predict how and why major sources and sinks of energy may change twenty years from now. Students are only presented with information from one source, so there is very little comparison and evaluation of different sources when they are making their predictions. To fully address the practice, teachers will need to provide students with other sources of information or require students to do additional research.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students briefly think about economic, social, and geopolitical impacts of energy production in parts one and two with little in-depth coverage. The thought of environmental impact is only discussed in part two, but there is no real emphasis. Teachers should incorporate the article, “Energy Goes with the Flow,” in part four to help increase the focus of this disciplinary core idea. To further address environmental impacts, teachers could have students do extension activity three.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are asked to think about how availability of biomass has impacted the places where it is used as the primary source to produce energy. Students look at global use and will need prior knowledge to fully answer the question. More research and additional readings may need to be presented to students in order to make connections between increased uses of biomass in certain countries. Students should also be directed to think about repercussions of increased use of biomass.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students discuss at great length where energy losses go from source to sink. Teachers will need to make sure that students do not have the misconception that energy losses means energy is lost. While this is addressed in part one, energy losses mean that it is not usable energy, students with little prior knowledge may not fully understand this concept. Teachers may need to provide supplemental information to struggling students. A potential resource teachers could use is, Circus Physics: Conservation of Energy currently found on the High School Physical Science Energy topic of the NGSS@NSTA Hub (

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The assessment, part four, has students use the information from data obtained, analyzed, and evaluated in parts one-three to make predictions on how and why energy sources and sinks will change in the next twenty years. Students must use the science and engineering practice of obtain, evaluate, and communicate information, crosscutting concept of energy and matter, and disciplinary core idea of natural resources to be able to create this visual or written explanation of future energy use.

  • Instructional Supports: While there is no clear-cut phenomenon students are trying to solve, the idea of energy sources and sinks (uses) is something students see discussed on a regular basis. Students should be invested in trying to predict what energy sources and sinks will look like when they are adults. The activity relies on students having prior knowledge about renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy and their end uses. Students should also be familiar with the term joules. Another possible piece of prior knowledge teachers need to connect to the activity, if students have a physics background, is the second law of thermodynamics. The information presented to students is scientifically accurate and grade appropriate. There are opportunities for discussion in each of the non-assessment portions of the activity. Both students and teachers are provided with questions to help focus discussion. Teachers are provided with some points that should be discussed in the teacher’s pages. Extension activity two allows students to connect energy sources and sinks to their community. Teachers could use the supplemental material to help struggling students when developing their models if they are choosing that option for part two (option two). Teachers would need to develop reading guides for struggling readers. Included are three possible extension activities teachers could use for students with high interest or have met the performance expectation. Completion of these activities would fully address the disciplinary core idea and obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information science and engineering practice, which are not fully addressed by the activity.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers can use the questions found at the end of each part in order to see evidence of students three-dimensional learning. Teachers can formatively assess students by examining their answers to the questions found at the end of each part and through class discussions. No rubrics or scoring guidelines are provided. Example answers for part two, figure four questions are provided. No other example answers for other questions are provided. It would be up to the teacher to develop rubrics and example answers. Some students may struggle with vocabulary if they do not have the required prior knowledge for the activity. Teachers will need to be aware of student’s that may lack this requirement and address it accordingly.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -