Activity Number
Overview and Learning Objectives
Classroom Practice
Central Concepts
Benchmarks and Standards
Macro Micro Link
Activity Credits

Energy Games: Energy and Force Among Atoms (10 pp of energy exercises)

Interactive, scaffolded model

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Overview and Learning Objectives

This activity starts by looking at the energy in just a few atoms and at the energy in pendulums. In each case, KE and PE can be exchanged, but the total remains constant. When more atoms are included, the exchange of KE can be seen as heat flow. When a collection of atoms is heated or compressed, the resulting increase in PE can lead to changes of phase.

Students will be able to:

  • understand that temperature is the average kinetic energy;
  • understand that heat flow consists of kinetic energy being passed between atoms;
  • understand that potential and kinetic energy can be exchanged;
  • understand that the total energy of a group of atoms is constant unless external energy is added or subtracted;
  • learn through experimentation;
  • increase knowledge of Molecular Workbench controls.

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At several points in the activity, students are asked to respond and to provide annotated snapshots. These snapshots can be very helpful in revealing whether students are able to capture key events and explain them adequately with annotations.

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Classroom Practice

This project asks students to watch models carefully and to initiate their own experiments to answer questions. There is a lot to be learned, so adequate time for experimentation should be scheduled. Students may rush through these experiments and not see their relationship to each other. Teacher input may be required to slow them down and get them to perform more experiments. One good strategy is to ask to see a student's annotated snapshots. Look for accurate and thorough explanations.

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Central Concepts

Key Concept:

Total energy of a closed system is conserved.

Additional Related Concepts


  • Atom
  • Conduction
  • Energy
  • Energy conservation
  • Energy transfer
  • Heat energy
  • Kinetic energy
  • Potential energy

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Benchmarks and Standards


  • THE LIVING ENVIRONMENT: CELLS - Within every cell are specialized parts for the transport of materials, energy transfer, protein building, waste disposal, information feedback, and even movement (Full Text of Standard)

  • THE PHYSICAL SETTING: ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS - Although just as much total energy remains, its being spread out more evenly means less can be done with it (Full Text of Standard)

  • THE PHYSICAL SETTING: ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS - Different energy levels are associated with different configurations of atoms and molecules (Full Text of Standard)

  • THE PHYSICAL SETTING: ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS - Heat energy in a material consists of the disordered motions of its atoms or molecules (Full Text of Standard)

  • THE PHYSICAL SETTING: ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS - Transformations of energy usually produce some energy in the form of heat, which spreads around by radiation or conduction into cooler places (Full Text of Standard)

  • THE PHYSICAL SETTING: ENERGY TRANSFORMATIONS - Whenever the amount of energy in one place or form diminishes, the amount in other places or forms increases by the same amount (Full Text of Standard)


  • Physical-Science: Energy Conservation / Entropy - 1 The total energy of the universe is constant (Full Text of Standard)

  • Physical-Science: Energy Conservation / Entropy - 2 All energy can be considered to be either kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion; potential energy, which depends on relative position; or energy contained by a field, such as electromagnetic wave (Full Text of Standard)

  • Physical-Science: Energy Conservation / Entropy - 3 Heat consists of random motion and the vibrations of atoms, molecules, and ions (Full Text of Standard)

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Macro Micro Link

These experiments relate temperature, phases of matter, and heat flow to the basic forces and energies between atoms.

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Activity Credits

Created by CC Project: TELS and CC: Molecular Literacy using Molecular Workbench

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NSF Logo
These materials are based upon work supported
by the National Science Foundation under grant numbers
9980620, ESI-0242701, EIA-0219345, DUE-0402553, and 0628181.

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.