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Elementary Science Education

Energy Flow

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      Bernard Nebel
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      A common misconception is that in natural ecosystems energy is recycled. Wrong! Energy flows; it enters at one point and ¬†exits at another never to return. Emphasize this concept by having students consider a hot object, a cup of hot cocoa for example. Its heat is a form of energy; where does it go? (It exits into cooler surroundings.) Can they prevent this from occurring? (They might slow it down with insulation of one sort or another, but they can’t stop it.) How can they make cocoa hot again? (They must use a stove burner wherein heat flows from the hotter burner into¬†the cooler cocoa.) (A microwave is another way of creating an energy flow from the microwave generator to the cocoa.)

      Have students cite additional examples. Particularly ask them to think of exceptions. Analyze any such exceptions and they will be found in error. The conclusion is that energy flows from hotter toward cooler. In terms of the Earth this is eventually into outer space. There is no way turn it around and recycle it. (Please post any questions or problems with having students understand this concept. It is basic.)

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