In this article: Firstly the reasons for learning about energy will be discussed, then the typically specified GCSE energy content will identified and finally some ideas abut how this can all be taught in an engaging and relevant manner will be suggested.

Why ?

Energy is one of the important ‘Big Ideas’ in Physics. The concept is fundamental to the understanding and development of several other physics topics (e.g. the transfer of energy in electrical circuits or emission of gamma radiation due to energy changes in the nucleus). It is also used in chemistry to understand chemical reactions and in biology to understand many biological systems. Hence it is essential to help students gain a deep level of understanding before, perhaps, other topics can be explained. Physicists are actively working on identifying ways to reduce the energy usage of the population. There are numerous reasons for this; global climate change and the approaching shortage of fossil fuels amongst them.


There are 5 concepts regarding energy that GCSE students are typically expected to cover:

  • The types of energy and how they are stored within a system

  • How systems change the type of energy stored in them, along with calculations on the amount of energy stored

  • How the power of a system relates to how quickly a system carries out energy transfers

  • Conservation of energy and how this links to the efficiency of a system

  • How energy is stored globally, the ways in which we can change that energy into useful forms. The global, environmental, ethical and economic impact of doing so for a variety of renewable and non-renewable resources.


Below are some suggestions for creating a fun, relevant and innovative scheme for your Energy topic:

1. Every Day Items

One way to engage students with energy could be through a theme that runs across the topic. Select an electrical device and lead your students through the topic using this device as the basis; how is it storing energy, how is it transferring energy and calculations on the amount of energy stored/transferred, how powerful is the device, where does the device have wasted energy transfers, how does this affect its efficiency and how could the efficiency be improved, the generation and distribution of the electricity required to make the device operate. Additionally when do you use the item and how can we make sure there is the supply of electricity required?

This could be supported by a project style homework in which the students carry out the same analysis of a device they select themselves.

2. A Day Out

Another idea could be a theme-park; how is the energy stored and transferred by the various rides, calculations on the energy a person has stored when using different rides, how powerful the rides are, how to improve the efficiency of the rides (maybe to make them faster by wasting less energy!). Also how are the rides supplied with energy. Again, students could support their learning with a project type homework where they analyse their favourite theme-park attraction.

3. A Work Out

A sporty cohort might like to base this topic on the gym; there are many (or so I am told) pieces of equipment that can be used to highlight the principles in this area: the treadmill for kinetic, the free weights for gravitational potential and the yoga-ball or resistance bands for elastic potential. Students can compare who is the most powerful and suggest how their power be improved. How could you improve the design of the equipment to increase efficiency?

4. Topical

A topical theme could be the Olympic games; compare the energy transfers and efficiency of athletes in different sporting activities, which sports have the most powerful athletes, how is the electricity generated for the arena, what are the patterns in electricity demand and how are thy met.

5. Local Attractions

If you live near a well known shopping centre you could consider tying the energy topic into the infrastructure. Lifts versus Stairs versus Escalators (how do they store and transfer energy, how powerful are they, how efficient are they). When is peak demand for electricity and which resources are used to meet the demand. Students could put together a proposal for using locally generated electricity; where would they put the solar cells/wind turbines/geothermal generators and why, would they require back-up generators, what would they use to run them and would they still need the National Grid?

This is a topic with so much scope for theme based teaching; you know your students and the area in which you are based. Why not write you new GCSE Scheme of Work to engage your students with interesting, local or topical based learning. Have a look at these tips to maximise the engagement of girls in your teaching and our ideas on things you could include in your scheme of work to make your teachers lives a bit easier.

GCSE Energy – Ideas on Making it Relevant
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