Target Grade Level / Age Range:

Grades 9-12


50 minutes


By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency
  2. Identify infrastructure changes on farms can increase energy conservation and efficiency


  • Projector
  • Writing surface
  • Note cards
  • Yarn
  • Poster board
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Markers
  • Rulers
  • Tape

Suggested Companion Resources


  • Energy Conservation: reducing or eliminating usage to save energy
  • Energy Efficiency: getting the most productivity from every unit of energy

Interest Approach or Motivator

Once students enter the room shut off the room lights. Ask the students if having the lights off is conserving energy. (Yes) Is it being energy efficient? (No, because with the lights off no one can see to do anything). Turn the heat/air conditioning on and open a window. Is this being energy efficient? (No) Is it conserving energy (No). If it is a cold day, hold a coffee cup by the handle and then wrap your hands around the cup. Which one is more energy efficient? (wrapping hands around, because the coffee cup can warm cold hands as well as keep the liquid warm)

Based on these examples, ask students if they can tell the difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency. Solicit student responses.


Objective 1: The difference between energy conservation and energy efficiency

Prior to class transfer the bullet points of energy efficiency to note cards. Tape the note cards around the classroom affixed to the closest representation of that item (i.e. ‘Turn of lights’ should be taped to the light switch). Instruct students to search around the room until all 25 cards have been collected. Have students share the cards they collected with the entire class and explain what they mean.

  1. Careful equipment maintenance
  2. Installation of high-efficiency motors, fans, and lighting
    1. 23% of US electricity is used by motors but often with great inefficiency.
  3. Practicing reduced tillage of fields requires less passes across the field and fewer gallons of diesel burned in the tractor
  4. Spraying pre-emergent herbicide and planting seeds at the same time with a single pass of the tractor.
  5. Converting to grass-based livestock operations requires less feed to be milled and distributed
  6. Switching to drip irrigation because it requires less energy from the pump and can be gravity fed.
  7. Maintain and service furnace and air conditioning units. Clean filters are a must!
  8. Test and seal your forced-air ductwork. Upgrade to efficient appliances.
  9. Turn off lights when not in use and use sleep/ hibernate settings on computers.
  10. Unplug seldom-used appliances or use power-strips to easily turn off multiple appliances. (Even in idle, many appliances consume Phantom Loads)
  11. Install Energy Star appliances and LED lighting
  12. Set thermostat to save energy  (ex: 68° in winter, 78° in summer).
  13. Optimize sunlight by opening southern window coverings during the day and closing them at night. (Opposite during the hot summer months)
  14. Use natural cooling by creating cross-ventilation with open windows.
  15. Reduce vehicle use by planning ahead to combine chores or carpool. Walk and bike whenever possible.
  16. Water heater temperature can be as low as 120°F if not used excessively.
  17. Refrigerator temperature can be as high as 40°F. Make sure door seals tight.
  18. Building retrofits - insulation, weather stripping/sealing
  19. Power-vented or condensing type heaters are 13% and 25% more efficient, respectively, than natural draft heaters.
  20. In-floor heating systems can be more efficient (and comfortable) to operate in buildings used throughout the winter, yet are generally more expensive to install.
    1. As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. Making smart decisions about your home's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills — and your comfort.
  21. Improve building insulation to keep buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter
  22. Install motion-sensor lighting to shut lights off when not in use.
  23. One simple way to reduce electrical energy costs by 75% is to switch from incandescent lighting to fluorescent T8 lighting.
  24. Natural light should be used as much as possible. In fact, milk production by dairy cows is dependent on available light.
  25. Motors with Variable Speed Drives can save substantial energy, as they adjust to the demand load.

Energy conservation can be defined as reducing or eliminating energy usage to save. Energy efficiency can then be defined as getting the most productivity from every unit of energy.

Have students work in a large group with the cards or in smaller groups with the practices displayed on the screen. Instruct students to sort the cards and develop a Venn diagram to illustrate which practices are energy conservation practices and which are energy efficiency practices. If the entire class works together, use yarn to layout two large overlapping circles on the floor of the classroom. Have students sort the cards into the Venn diagram circles moving the cards into the appropriate circle until everyone is in agreement.

The solution to this can be subjective, but the instructor can use this key.

Conservation: 3, 6, 9, 10, 12, 15, 16, 18, 22, 25

Efficiency: 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 19, 20

Both: 5, 11, 13, 14, 17, 21, 23, 24

Objective 2: Infrastructure changes on farms that can increase energy conservation and efficiency

Many farms were established more than 100 years ago. While they undergo routine maintenance and many have built new buildings, implementing these energy conservation and efficiency measures may take significant changes in infrastructure.

If a farmer had unlimited financial resources available, what would an ideal energy efficient farm look like? Break students into groups of two or three. Each group should choose a type of farm they would like to own (swine, cattle, row crop, fruit, vegetable, etc.). Instruct them to design an energy efficient farm. Provide poster board, markers, rulers for students to make their designs.

Student designs should include:

  • Building layout on the property (students should draw a map or design it on CAD if they are proficient). Be prepared to explain why the layout they chose is most efficient. The layout should include a homestead, storage buildings, animal housing facilities, and any other buildings to make it a working farm.
  • Student designs should provide a cross section view of the homestead and identify energy conservation and energy efficiency practices implemented.
  • Student designs should include a cross section view of any animal housing facilities and identify energy conservation or energy efficiency practices implemented.
  • Student designs should identify the acres that might be put into crop production. It should identify machinery used in planting and harvest and specify energy conservation and efficiency practices used.
  • Students should also identify what kind of maintenance that buildings and machinery will require.

Give students 20-25 minutes to work on these designs. Circulate the room and assist them in developing their designs by answering questions and challenging their thinking.

Once students have wrapped up their designs they can post them on the walls around the room. Conduct a gallery walk around the classroom. When you get to each design, have that team describe and explain their design to the rest of the class.


After the gallery walk, ask students what is one thing they can change in their own home or their own lives to be more energy efficient or to conserve energy. Go around the room until every student has had a chance to respond.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Extension Activities

  • Conduct a basic energy audit of your home or farm. Keep a checklist of problems you find, as it will help you prioritize upgrades and fixes.



Will Fett

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Theme 1: Agriculture and the Environment
    • Describe resource and conservation management practices used in agricultural systems (e.g., riparian management, rotational grazing, no till farming, crop and variety selection, wildlife management, timber harvesting techniques)
    • Evaluate the various definitions of “sustainable agriculture,” considering population growth, carbon footprint, environmental systems, land and water resources, and economics

Education Content Standards

  • HS-LS2-6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
  • HS-LS2-7. Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.*

Common Core Connections

  • SL.9–10.1: Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one–on–one, in groups, and teacher–led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • SL.9–10.4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

Creative Commons License

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