Energy and Thermal Physics

Modelling power stations

Classroom Activity for 11-14 Supporting Physics Teaching

What the Activity is for

This activity is to promote discussion about power stations. It can serve to introduce the modelling program VnR to a class: this software provides a simple way to express relationships between different quantities. You can then alter one quantity and see the effect on another. In this way it supports conversations you might have in the classroom, by providing a visual representation of something that might otherwise just have to be imagined.

What to Prepare

  • the modelling program VnR
  • a data projector or interactive whiteboard
  • possibly a set of computers running the modelling software

What Happens During this Activity

Take a simple chemical power station, and ask what the main factors are that affect the output of the station. Focus on the quantity of fuel and the warming that goes to waste, then you'll be able to build a suitable model.

Repeat the process for a wind turbine. You might then point out the common features of the structure, discussing how the different parts of the model fit together. Here you'll want to draw attention to common patterns in thinking, showing how calculating differences and multiplying factors appear in the model. It will also be important to make the distinction between the dynamic models with rate relationships and the more static models that show factors affecting the power station outputs.

You might then encourage the pupils to make up their own models, perhaps starting from the file of blank stores provided. In each case you should probably encourage elaboration on the ways in which the main store is replenished, and possibly also factors affecting waste.

Encourage pupils to share and discuss their models, perhaps whilst running them on a computer attached to the data projector, as this will allow both you and the pupil to assess their understanding of energy.

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