Exploring electricity and magnetism in sustainable transport

Learn more about Stile's electrifying new unit on Non-Contact Forces and Electricity that aligns to Version 9 of the Australian Curriculum.

Exploring electricity and magnetism in sustainable transport

I'm sure you've had at least one conversation about petrol and electricity prices over the past few weeks. Electric cars seem like they’re becoming the more price conscious choice, and they’re absolutely better for the environment (assuming they’re powered by renewable energy of course). But what are electric cars? How do they work? Are there other environmentally sustainable alternatives to electric cars? Students explore all these questions in our latest unit that’s all about sustainable transport!

This unit touches deep dives into the wave and particle models, demonstrating how they can be useful in describing energy transfer, gravity, static electricity, magnetism, electromagnetism, and electricity.

In my experience of visiting schools around the country, the context used to cover wave and particle models varies widely, often taught through the exploration of sound, light, waves in water, or digital signals. These are all amazing, interesting topics in their own right, but there are only so many contact hours we get with our students in science. So while we do have units covering those topics, we’re now recommending that you exclusively use this new unit to cover your curriculum requirements for waves and particles if you’re following our Scope and Sequence (links below), particularly if you’re pressed for time.

In the ideation of this unit, we thought deeply about how we can best meet the requirements of the curriculum while ensuring we equip students with broad knowledge so they can be informed, reflective citizens, ready to participate confidently in scientific conversations. I hope that you find this unit strikes the right balance,  covering key curriculum outcomes while ensuring plenty of time for hands-on activities. We’ve very intentionally scaffolded complex ideas found in this unit so all students can access the learning and of course build a love of science.

To give you a taste of the hands-on activities, students will:

  • map magnetic fields using iron filings,
  • investigate the forces at play in a magnetic accelerator,
  • build an electromagnet and
  • Even competein a static electricity tug-o-war as they discover how non-contact forces interact (side note, check out this hilarious video of teachers competing for glory at CONASTA earlier this year).

They then delve deeper into electricity, building series and parallel circuits using a simulation and creating a real-life electric motor.

By the way, if you’re keen for a class set of all the bits you need for the practical activities in this unit, please drop me a line.

This unit aligns with

Students take on the role of engineers and begin by defining the problem: travel and transport are damaging the environment. By exploring possible solutions, they learn about non-contact forces like magnetism, gravity and electromagnetism. Students design their own mode of sustainable transport using what they have learned and, through the engineering design process, iterate on their design to refine their solution.

Next, students apply their learning using materials from the unit's hands-on experiments to develop a transport solution that can stop and start, move over hills, and travel at a controlled speed.  These practical tasks carefully scaffold students' understanding of magnetism as a non-contact force. Students present and reflect on their design, then extend their understanding of an electromagnet and how non-contact forces can be used to make objects move. By building an electric motor, which exhibits both contact and non-contact forces, your class will come to consider how electric cars work. Finally, students extend their knowledge to series and parallel circuits. After all, you'll want to play music in your car, and that means you'll need to build a parallel circuit!

By teaching all of these things together in a rich and relevant context, students are more likely to grasp concepts that are often misunderstood. They will build important foundational knowledge to help them understand why we are moving towards electric rather than petrol-powered vehicles and to ask questions like "Where is the electricity coming from?"

Jam-packed with wonderful hands-on experiments, beautiful videos, and real-world context, this unit will spark conversations in your classrooms.