Science in Focus: Energy

Eight one-hour video programs and user guide.

Energy orchestrates every aspect of the everyday world: from motion, simple machines, and food, to the human body and the universe. Hosted by the Harvard astronomer Charles A. Whitney, with guest appearances by experts, including Phil Morrison of MIT, the series distiguishes the differences between the physical science concept of energy and colloquial concepts of energy. Aimed at an audience of teachers of grades K-5, it features interviews with children, who give insights into what typical students might think about the subject. Contrasting interviews with scientists provide clear and accurate explanations of the underlying concepts. Finally, classroom footage shows how the idea of energy pops up in many commonly-taught K-6 units, even those that do not overtly concern energy.

Program guides and supporting materials: (PDF)

Produced by:
Smithsonian Institution Astrophysical Observatory
in partnership with the Annenberg Foundation

Workshop 1 - What Is Energy?
Interviews about energy with children, scientists, and people on the street reveal the wide range of concepts that teachers encounter. In this session, you will look at the differences between the everyday language of energy and the scientific concept, see highlights of its history, and learn its importance in our understanding of the world.
Workshop 2 - Force and Work
Scientists define energy as the ability to do work. In this session, see how work is defined in physics and examine how energy and work are related.
Workshop 3 - Transfer and Conversion of Energy
Change happens when energy is transferred or converted. In this session, examine conversion between potential and kinetic energy.
Workshop 4 - Energy in Cycles
Energy can be seen in cycles every day, from the bouncing of balls to the swinging of pendulums. In this session, further explore the relationship between kinetic and potential energy to understand how cycles begin and are sustained, and why they decay.
Workshop 5 - Energy in Food
All life forms use energy. In this session, explore the transfer and conversion of the potential energy in food, and see how that energy is stored. Through animations, witness photosynthesis, the process by which plant cells capture the ultimate energy source for all food: sunlight.
Workshop 6 - Energy and Systems
Physicists use the concept of a system to trace and quantify the flow of energy. In this program, take a close look at a number of energy systems and see how this concept is closely linked to the principle of conservation of energy.
Workshop 7 - Heat, Work, and Efficiency
A machine's energy output cannot be greater than its input. In this session, look at the energy that goes into useful work, examine how some always ends up as heat, and see why systems are never 100% efficient.
Workshop 8 - Understanding Energy
Energy lights our homes, fuels our transportation systems, and much more, but affordable energy is in limited supply. In this session, look at the global impact of these limits and see how being smart about using energy will become more important in our daily lives.

Copyright (c) 2002 The Annenberg Foundation
Used by permission.