Switch, the full-length documentary, has been a regular component of my AP Environmental course since I received my first copy of the DVD over ten years ago. I was impressed by the balanced and fact-based tone of the film which is often hard to come by when presenting environmental issues. A couple of years later, I learned about the Energy Primers and Energy Labs, the short and direct educational videos that provided further information about electricity. As I began previewing these resources, I realized that they were perfect for use in teaching electricity in my high school physics classes. Now, thanks to Switch Classroom, electricity is a more approachable and applicable unit in the course.
Most students take our use and access to electricity for granted so I begin the electricity unit with two lessons from Switch Classroom, Introduction to Energy and Electricity Supply and Demand. These two lessons provide a great hook to engage students and get them to start thinking about electricity, how much they use, how it is made, and how it gets to our homes. During these lessons, I also ensure that students are able to access and navigate the Switch Classroom platform and address any issues encountered by individual students. This is a particularly important step when you may have students in the classroom and others working from home. We continue with two more introductory lessons that include The Energy Mix and
What Powers the World? A great part of this lesson for the physics class is the Energy Fact Sheet that reviews the many forms of energy such as potential, kinetic, thermal, chemical, nuclear, etc. I use the Math FRQ question from What Powers the World? as a challenge for my higher level students.
Next, we start getting into the muscle of the unit by really exploring electricity. Below is a list of lessons with a few notes about each.
Introduction to Electricity. This has another great reading that reviews current, voltage, resistance and Ohm’s law.
Science and Sources of Electricity. A short but important lesson as it asks students to summarize the process of electricity production.
Electric Power Infrastructure. Students have fun creating the visual representation of energy being made and transmitted to their homes. I give groups of students large whiteboards and have them work with a partner on this part of the lesson.
Battery Basics. Fundamentals of the batteries that power an ever-increasing part of our world is essential knowledge for everyone.
The Importance of Storing Electricity. I usually have students complete the video and quiz only for this section and then we have a discussion about why this is an important issue and challenge students with the notion that it is their generation that will need to come up with solutions to energy storage.
In addition to the above lessons, students also learn about circuits and Ohm’s law interspersed within the electricity unit, but Switch Classroom provides the backbone of the unit, making the concept of electricity something pertinent and meaningful to the students.
As the culmination of the unit, each student gets to explore their own personal energy use by looking at energy efficiency and conservation. I use these Switch Classroom lessons for this final part of the unit.
Energy Efficiency. Students always gasp when Dr. Tinker pours the soda on the floor and takes a hammer to a phone! Here again, I give the Advanced part of the lesson to those students who would like a challenge.
Smarter Energy Use. The final activity in this lesson asks students to use the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goal-setting technique to develop a plan for saving energy.
Overall, I allow about four weeks on the electricity unit. The last two years have made pacing difficult as our school has changed the schedule multiple times, but I have been able to keep the unit within this approximate time frame. This, again, incorporates the use of the Switch Classroom as well as other traditional forms of instruction, practice, and labs for the students related to electricity.
At the end of each school year, I survey students about the course, what they liked as well as areas for improvement. Consistently Switch and Dr. Tinker are always a student favorite. If you are looking to reboot your electricity curriculum, I encourage you to give Switch Classroom a try.
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