Teaching About Energy: The NEED Project

Elementary social studies curricula often include a study of natural resources. Typically, students learn the definition of a natural resource, the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources, and study examples, including fossil fuels and other energy sources. However, the topic of energy and energy sources is a rich way to integrate scientific concepts and hands-on exploration. And in the face of current discussions of global climate change, greenhouse gases, rising fuel costs, and the need for alternate energy sources, it is clear that the topic of energy deserves more time across all grade levels.

Teachers interested in expanding their study of energy can look to the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project for assistance. NEED began in 1980 as a one-day celebration of energy education. Today, it is a network of educators and delivers a number of energy education programs.

National Energy Education Development Project
The main page of the NEED Project.

NEED’s Energy Curriculum and Materials

NEED produces energy curriculum and materials for students at four grade levels: primary (K-2), elementary (3-5), intermediate (6-8), and secondary (9-12). NEED’s energy curriculum is divided into eight steps:

Step One: Science of Energy

Students learn the forms of energy (heat, light, motion, sound, electricity) and how energy is transformed from one form into other forms.

Step Two: Sources of Energy

Students learn about energy sources used today – their formation, exploration, production, distribution, consumption, and economic and environmental trade-offs.

Step Three: Electricity

Students participate in hands-on exploration of the scientific concepts of electricity and electricity generation, transmission, and efficient use of energy.

Step Four: Transportation Fuels

Students learn about the transportation sector of the economy, conventional and alternative fuels, and the fuels of the future.

Step Five: Energy Efficiency and Conservation

Students learn how energy is used, new energy-efficient technologies, and ways to conserve energy at home and at school.

Step Six: Synthesis, Reinforcement, Extension

Students synthesize, reinforce, and extend their learning. They may also teach others what they have learned.

Step Seven: Evaluation

Students demonstrate their understanding of energy concepts through various assessment activities.

Step Eight: Recognition

Teachers may document energy activities in a scrapbook or participate in the Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement.

The NEED resource catalog contains a listing of all guides, kits, and materials needed to carry out the eight steps. It also includes a matrix that illustrates the learning progression at each level (primary, elementary, intermediate, secondary). NEED’s energy curriculum materials are aligned to national and many state standards.

Professional Development

NEED provides a variety of professional development workshops and conferences through partnerships with state and local partners. In addition, five-day National Energy Conferences for Educators are hosted each July to train teachers in the use of energy programs in their classrooms and extracurricular activities.

Teacher/Student Training
Provides an overview of all professional development activities.


Membership is $35 and provides the following benefits:

  • Annually updated Curriculum Packet
  • Subscription to the Energy Exchange newsletter
  • Access to NEED conferences, workshops, and the Youth Awards Program
  • Ability to order basic curriculum units and free supplemental materials

In many states, membership is sponsored by federal or state energy agencies and corporate sponsors.

NEED Membership
Provides detailed information about membership.

Online Resources

In addition to ordering kits and materials through the project, teachers can also take advantage of free online materials. The NEED Project now provides their energy infobooks online in pdf format. Infobooks provide background information on the sources of energy, electricity, transportation, conservation and efficiency, and consumption. The books are available at primary, elementary, intermediate, and secondary reading levels. Primary books are designed as flipbooks for teachers to read to students; the others are designed for student use. Teachers can print infobooks from the NEED web site, or order a classroom set. In addition, teachers can also download and print companion activities.

NEED Energy Infobooks
Download and print infobooks for primary, elementary, intermediate, and secondary reading levels.

NEED Energy Games and Icebreakers
Games and icebreakers to introduce energy concepts and get students excited to learn about energy.

Getting Started

Feeling overwhelmed by all the content available from the NEED Project? Start by visiting the Curriculum Guides and Program Resources page, which provides pdf versions of activities and curriculum guides. This page also includes a planning document and standards alignment information.

Curriculum Guides and Program Resources
This page provides resources for teachers planning an energy unit.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright October 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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