STEM Lesson Planning

Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven

Grade 3: Energy and its interactions

Physical Science

Author Adapted from the Unit Plan by Anna Lowe, 2018

Standard, TN DOE

Physical Science 3.PS3.1 Recognize that energy is present when objects move; describe effects of energy transfer from one object to another.

Third grade summary

Students will engage in an exploration of energy over the course of several weeks, specifically focusing on the transfer of energy. They will explore this concept through activities, whole-group discussions, reflections in their science journals, and peer interactions. Throughout this unit, students will discover what different types of energy are, how energy is transferred, how energy affects interactions, and how to identify potential and kinetic energy. They will experience these phenomena through hands-on projects, including creating their own version of Newton’s Cradle to understand the transfer of energy. Students will also create a ping pong launcher to experience the different types of energy.


Engage. Day 1 will be focused on generating students’ interest in energy and getting them thinking about what energy is. Teachers will provoke the interest of students by doing an energy scavenger hunt around the classroom. In the scavenger hunt, students will look for examples of different kinds of energy. This will generate excitement and enthusiasm for the upcoming unit while also connecting students’ past learning. Learners will record their findings in their science journals, which will provide teachers with valuable information about the current understandings of energy.

Explore. Students will then begin their exploration of energy over the next few days. The teacher will read the book, Energy Makes Things Happen (Brubaker Bradley, 2002) to get students thinking about the transfer of energy. Then, students will explore the idea of the transfer of energy through an experiment called Newton’s Cradle. The teacher should tell students that they will be creating their own version, so that they can start thinking about what theirs will look like as they experiment with the example. The teacher will provide the materials for students to create Newton’s Cradle in pairs. Students will work to create a structure that is strong enough to hold the balls at the end of the string. This will allow students to experience the transfer of energy while also establishing a relationship between mass and force. The teacher will be asking students questions as they work so that students can share their ideas and examine their own thinking.

Explain. Students will be asked to present their cradles to their class and explain how they made them. They will discuss their process in engineering the structure and the transfer of energy that is happening between the balls. Teachers will record anecdotal notes during presentations while also extending the conversations to deepen students’ content knowledge. Teachers will also ask students to record their findings in science journals as well as their peers. They will explain the differences and similarities of the cradles. This is an opportunity for students to practice discussing the transfer of energy using formal and informal language. Teachers will ask guiding questions and give learners vocabulary such as kinetic and potential energy to use in their discussions.

Elaborate. The next few days will present students with different activities to further their understanding of energy. Teachers will pair-up learners and give them puff balls and a ruler. They will put some puff balls on top of the ruler, then, they will flick one puff ball towards the ruler and observe what happens to the other puff balls. They will also measure how far each puff ball went with the ruler and record this on their documentation paper. Teachers will ask guiding questions to each pair and encourage them to explain what is happening in formal language. Students will use their knowledge from creating Newton’s Cradle, as well as other learning from the unit, to explain what happens to the marbles.

Evaluate. Teachers will evaluate the learning from this unit by having students create their own ping pong launchers with balloons. First, the class will discuss the transfer of energy from one object to another (although not until 4th grade, students may be ready to discuss potential and kinetic energy). The teacher will begin evaluating the learning through this discussion as students give answers to the questions. Then, students will be given a cup and a balloon, they will also be asked to choose different materials to launch. They will make predictions about the launches and then experiment with the different objects. Students will see that when the balloon is stretched, there is a creation of potential energy and when it is released it has kinetic energy. They will also discuss what happened to their objects with peers and document their findings in their science journals. They will also reflect on their learning in their journals at the end of this activity to self-evaluate. They should be able to explain that the objects have different energy transfers and lighter objects can go further while heavier objects do not go as far. Teachers will evaluate students by observing their work with the ping pong launchers and asking open-ended questions to hear students’ ability to demonstrate their understanding of energy transfer.

4th Grade: Making Waves

Physical Science & Math

Author: Adapted from the Interactive Notebook created by Allison Frazier, 2019

NGSS- Physical Science 4.PS4.1 Use a model of a simple wave to explain regular patterns of amplitude, wavelength, and direction.

Math 4.MD.A.1 Measure and estimate to determine relative sizes of measurement units within a single system of measurement involving length, liquid volume, and mass/weight of objects using customary and metric units.


This unit explore waves and their properties. There will be several whole-group discussions about waves that will engage students and expand their knowledge of waves. Students will experience waves through hands-on activities in stations around the classroom. These stations will involve jump ropes, water, and Slinkys. Throughout the unit, students will record their findings from their experiments in their interactive notebooks as they work with partners to discover different types of waves and explore the different properties.


Engage. This set of learning experiences will begin with the classroom discussing the different types of waves and if they have seen them in their own experience. They will also talk about the “wave” being done at sporting events and if they have been a part of that kind of wave. Teachers will play a video of the world record for the biggest wave done at a sporting event and the class will talk about what they noticed in the clip. The video and discussion will create an interest in the main idea for this unit while also demonstrating the knowledge students already have of waves. Another way to engage could be to explore the various geographic points where waves are known to be intense and dynamic – this could be a connection to social studies content in the upper elementary grades. For example, some surfing locations around the world are particularly known for their amazing waves the Pipelines in Hawaii, Supertubes in South Africa, etc. (see videos from National Geographic).

Explore. Students will explore waves by visiting different stations set up in the classroom, this will provide them with hands-on experiences of making different waves. There will be 3 stations for students to rotate through with a partner. The first involves creating waves with jump ropes, the second station will have a rock that students will drop into a dishpan and watch the waves the rock creates, and the third station involves putting a slinky on a yardstick and observing the movement of the slinky when one end is still and the other is moved back and forth. As students move through the stations, they will record their observations and write which type of wave they created in their interactive science notebooks. Teachers will observe students as they create waves and ask questions as they work. This activity will allow students to experience the key concept of this unit by seeing real examples of each kind of wave.

Explain. For this phase, teachers will go through an article with students about the properties of waves. They will discuss properties like direction, amplitude, wavelength, crests, and more. Teachers will go through the content with the class and then students will answer questions about properties in their science notebook. This gives students formal vocabulary surrounding waves and lets them practice using it.

Elaborate. Students will extend their knowledge of waves by working to create waves with jump rope with a partner. Teachers will challenge students to create certain wavelengths and amplitudes with the ropes. Students will use a measuring tape to record the distances of the wave and to check the wave’s accuracy. They will record their findings and complete a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) in their interactive notebook. Students will be able to apply their new learning in this activity and communicate their understandings of the properties of waves.

Evaluate. Students’ learning will be evaluated by answering questions in their science interactive notebook. The questions will be in two sections, math and science, and they will be in a variety of formats including multiple choice and short answer. Students will also evaluate their own learning by writing a reflection on their experience and learning throughout the unit. Teachers will assess their learning by looking at what they have recorded in their interactive notebook throughout the unit and their answers to the final questions.


Lange, Alissa A.; Robertson, Laura; Price, Jamie; and Craven, Amie. 2021. Teaching Early and Elementary STEM. Johnson City: East Tennessee State University.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Elementary Science Methods Copyright © 2023 by Alissa Lange - Laura Robertson - Jamie Price and Annie Craven is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book