Applied Science - Physics (2B)
Pre Lab

  • Defining energy.
  • Comparing different forms of energy


  • energy
  • kinetic
  • potential
  • Slinky

Students observe the energy created by a slinky


Physicists classify energy into three major types including  kinetic (dynamic or energy on the move), potential (static or energy at rest) and radian (electromagnetic).  There are many ways to generate energy including chemical, mechanic, light, electricity, magnetism,  heat, nuclear, and sound. However, many other items can be considered as "energy". 

The "Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy" states that energy can only change forms, it cannot be destroyed.  So a toaster changes electrical energy into heat or a television changes electrical energy into light and sound. 

This activity concentrates on energy at rest (potential) and energy on the move (kinetic).   Potential energy can change into kinetic energy to create work.  You can pick up a book and this is potential, let it go and it is kinetic.  These words seem difficult, but students love to say them because they can then describe energy.



  1. Go over the vocabulary. Define energy as "something" that takes on several familiar forms. It can be the energy of motion, chemical energy, or nuclear energy. In other words, energy moves "stuff". We cannot see, feel, taste, or smell energy. Energy is abstract and is used in many ways. Have students try and define energy in their own terms.
  2. To develop your student's understanding of the words, go over simple examples. Put a book in front of you. State that this book has the potential of getting their attention. Ask them how? Tell them, by making kinetic energy from this potential. Ask them if they know what you mean? If not, drop the book; kinetic energy has been accomplished. (Did you get their attention?) Ask them if you could have gotten more kinetic energy out of the book. Then ask them what would happen if you threw the book off a tall building. Would there be more kinetic energy? Yes, we made the book do more work and produce more kinetic energy because it was dropped from a higher source.
    Use the example of a pebble in water; the waves generated are a release of energy. The higher the pebble (more potential) thrown over the water, the more energy is produced (kinetic).
  3. Give pairs of students a slinky and ask them to design an apparatus to give the slinky more kinetic energy. (You may need lots of books and boxes). Students will discover that if you allow the slinky to "step" down from a high place, (potential) the slinky will produce more kinetic energy. Beware! Students like to design exotic steps. Keep reviewing the terms: potential is when the slinky is at rest; kinetic is when it moves.

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