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What is Potential Energy?

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Beth Taylor • updated: 2/14/2012

Use this hands on Potential Energy Lesson Plan to help your students understand the concept of potential energy along with its formula. This lesson plan is one in a series of energy lesson plans that should be included in every Physical Science curriculum.

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    What is Potential Energy?

    As discussed in the introductory lesson plan in this series, energy is usually not noticed nor given credit unless we see it in motion. Students may have difficulty grasping the very idea of potential energy based on this fact. This lesson plan is a hands on lesson plan so that students can see the process of potential energy. Use the activity below to introduce your students to the concept of potential energy after defining potential energy as the energy of position. This can further be defined as the energy an object has because of its location or position.

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    Potential Energy Activity

    For this potential energy activity you will need two rubber "bouncy balls". Follow the instructions below to complete this activity and help your students understand the concept of potential energy.

    • Hold a bouncy ball in each hand.
    • Raise one hand as high as you can and lower the other hand to about six inches off the floor.
    • Ask students to use what they know about potential energy and tell you which ball has more energy.
    • Tell students to watch the balls as they bounce back up off the floor to see which ball bounces higher and therefore had more potential energy.
    • Drop the balls at the same time.
    • Decide which ball bounced the highest.

    Discuss the activity with the students. Ask students the following questions.

    • Which variables in the activity were the same?
    • Which were different?
    • What made the difference in the amount of potential energy the balls each had?
    • Since the weight was the same, could the height make such a big difference?

    Explain the potential energy formula to your students as potential energy= weight x height. Discuss how this formula could explain the results of the potential energy activity.To further clarify the formula for your students, use the Potential Energy Study Guide.

Energy Lesson Plans

This series of energy lesson plans explores the conept of energy complete with energy formula study guides.
  1. Introduction to Energy
  2. What Are the Forms of Energy?
  3. Teaching About Conservation of Energy
  4. What is Potential Energy?
  5. What is Mechanical Kinetic Energy?