How to Use the Word “Energy” in Primary Science

Energy isn’t mentioned in the primary science curriculum, but the word is in common usage. Pupils will be building understanding and misunderstandings whether you use the word or not. To support colleagues for whom science is not a specialism, I wanted to write some example sentences using the word ‘energy’. 

I wrote eight energy statements which I shared on twitter for feedback. I scored my original statements (zero to five stars) depending on how acceptable the respondents found them.

I have summarised their feedback as a comment on each statement, and then rewritten each statement to address the feedback. 

I hope it is useful. Many thanks to everyone who has supported me with this.

The pdf is here:

Ben

August 2021

Initial StatementScience RatingCommentRevised Statement
“A kettle needs energy to boil water.”★★★☆☆The kettle converts energy from electricity to heat in the water.When a kettle boils, energy s transferred to the water.
“You need energy to make things move.”★★☆☆☆This attempt implies that to stay moving, an object needs more energy (like a car needing more petrol). But according to Newton’s First Law, objects naturally stay at the same speed unless a force acts on it. If you want to increase the sped of an object you need to add to its energy. You might be better off steering clear of energy and discussing forces instead.Increasing an object’s speed increases its energy. Or: you need a force to change an object’s speed or direction.
“A fridge uses energy to make things colder.”★★☆☆☆This sentence implies that ‘coldness’ moves. Instead we want to emphasise that heat is removed from the contents of the fridge.A fridge uses energy to remove heat from the contents.
“Plants need energy to grow.”★★★★☆Most respondents were happy with this statement.
“Plants get their energy from sunlight.”★★★★☆Most respondents were happy with this statement. The next step is to add that plants store energy as carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, carrots and cassava).Plants get their energy from sunlight which gets stored in carbohydrates.
“Humans get their energy from food.”★★★★☆Most respondents were happy with this statement. To extend you might add that our bodies use energy to move, grow, repair damage and to keep us warm.Human bodies get energy from food. Your body uses this energy to move, grow, repair damage and to keep warm.
“In the early industrial revolution, mills got their energy from waterwheels”★★★☆☆This suggests that the wheel creates the energy, whereas the wheel is a mechanism for transferring the energy from the moving water to the machinery.In the early industrial revolution, mills got their energy from moving water which turned waterwheels.
“The Akosombo dam in Ghana provides the aluminium industry with its energy needs.””★★★★☆Most respondents were happy with this statement. As with the water wheel example, you might want to emphasise the energy store is the water behind the dam.The water stored behind the Akosombo dam in Ghana provides the aluminium industry with its energy needs.
Statements using the word “energy”

(Note – the science rating reflects the number of respondents who found the original statement acceptable for KS1/2.)

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