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March 3, 2021

Let’s Talk Turkey! Transfer of Energy and Thanksgiving

Kathy's Third Graders doing project on floor

I recently spent some time working with third graders on motion stations.

As I watched them work, I was thinking about the transfer of energy and the unlimited possibilities for helping students understand this concept.

I started seeing energy everywhere I looked: watching a toy car move down a ramp, a pendulum swinging, and even balls bouncing. My brain was focused on moving energy and imagining the possibilities.

I was thinking about energy transfer even as I was helping students to grapple with questions of weight or height and mass, such as, “How does the height of the ramp affect the distance an object will travel?” or “How does the weight of the object affect the distance an object will travel?” The fact that I continued to return to this idea made me realize the importance of engaging our students with this phenomena… but how?

How might we engage students with the transfer of energy in the classroom in a fun and fascinating way right now?

Let’s Talk Turkey

It’s almost Thanksgiving and teachers everywhere are looking for ways to keep students engaged in the learning as the holiday season approaches.

cartoon turkey

How can we use the holiday and its fixings as phenomena, but still keep our important work of teaching science and meeting standards strong?

How might we use the upcoming holidays, starting with Thanksgiving, to help us teach transfer of energy?

Did you know that approximately 46,000,000 turkeys are consumed each year on the last Thursday of November each year?

That’s a lot of energy that’s being transferred!

Now you might be thinking… how does a turkey fit in with standards-based science?

LS2B Energy Cycles and Energy Transfer, of course! And what, exactly, does this stand for? LS2B is one of the life science disciplinary core ideas in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Teaching with Turkey: Before, During, and After

Turkey in the Wild: K-3

  • One idea for early elementary school students is for them to find a picture of wild turkeys in their environment and to identify the organism(s) and components within that environment. Students might then collect items from their own local environments and create a diorama where they recreate and identify the different organisms and other components within it.

Where Did All The Turkey Go?: Grades 4-6

  • In upper elementary grades, composting might be the focus. Challenge students to figure out what type of energy is being transferred when we compost leftovers from Thanksgiving.

The Circle of Life & The Cycle of Energy: Middle Grades

  • You might ask students to build a model to demonstrate the energy transferred from the baby turkey, to the turkey on the table, and then to you. This might be appropriate for middle school students. Check out What Do Turkeys Eat? for some ideas to get you started.
  • How many calories are really in that turkey drumstick? What is the total nutritional value of the drumstick? How much usable energy does the consumer take away from dinner? Yes, you can teach mathematical and computational thinking and transfer of energy using that drumstick you love so much!

Building On: The Big Picture

So how do continue the learning about energy transfer and still keep it relevant and meaningful for students?

Here are a few more learning experiences we might provide for students over the course of the year:

  • Reveal Ultraviolet Rays with Color-Changing BeadsUV Beads are the perfect tool for understanding how solar radiation can be harmful and to help students recognize measures that can be taken to reduce the risks associated with exposure to sunlight. When the beads are exposed to UV light energy, a chemical reaction occurs, allowing students to observe that UV light energy is present.
  • Batteries, Bulbs, and Beyond: Help students understand that the reason they’re experimenting with items like a D cell, a battery, and a bulb, or exploring an energy stick or ball, is more than just learning about electricity. It’s thinking about and making explicit for our students the importance of transfer of energy in their lives.
  • 3D Learning and Science and Engineering PracticesEnergy sticks and other phenomenon can also be used to engage students in Science and Engineering Practices in the NGSS, as we work to implement three-dimensional learning and instruction.
  • Connect Science to Everyday Life: Watch Brittany Williams and her students explore and investigate real-world energy transformations through lab stations.
VIDEO: Exploring Real World Energy Transformations 

VIDEO: Exploring Real World Energy Transformations 

  • Make Connections Between Systems in Science: Watch Tricia Shelton use energy concepts to make connections between physical and life science systems.
VIDEO: Energy & Matter Across Science Disciplines 

VIDEO: Energy & Matter Across Science Disciplines 

Energy transfer is connected to all of the science disciplines. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about energy transferred through electrical currents or the delicious, caloric energy transferred from the platter to your body as you consume your Thanksgiving dinner; the process isn’t all that different.

Energy constantly moves from place to place, sometimes changing from potential to kinetic energy, sometimes manifesting itself in heat, sound, or light.

Let’s use the opportunity the holiday and its phenomena afford to engage our students in learning that’s both meaningful and fun. The connections and positive associations with science make all the difference for our students.

Looking forward to the December holidays, think about how you can continue to develop the idea of energy transfer with phenomena like Christmas tree lights, engaging your students in the spirit of the season, all the while keeping them learning meaningful science lessons.

If you’re looking for more ideas and resources to help make connections for your students, take a look at our NGSS Deep Dive. It’s a collection for which I’m truly grateful — all year long!

Happy Thanksgiving!


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