Topic Progress:

Lesson – Transportation Conventional and Alternate Fuels: How is it Used?


Title: Transportation Conventional and Alternate Fuels: How is it Used?
Grade: 4th Grade
Duration: 45 Minutes

Please note: This is a Project Based Learning Project with four separate steps.


  • Investigate and describe some basic forms of energy, including light,heat, sound, electrical, chemical, and mechanical.
  • Energy exists in many forms and has the ability to do work or cause a change – SC.5.P.10.1


Can vehicles use a variety of different sources of energy and create the same outcome?


In this unit of study students will continue their focus on energy and all of its forms. Students will be researching and collaborating both the advantages and disadvantages of conventional and alternative energy used for transportation.

Essential Question

  • Do the needs of society, one’s personal beliefs, and/or changes to the quality of life effect considerations in determining the transportation fuels we use?
  • Do all transportation fuels have economic, environmental, and social advantages and disadvantages?

Background Information

Sir Isaac Newton, used mathematics and science to describe natural phenomenon which, at the time, were not understood. Newton’s Laws of Motion are still in use today, and these principles can be found in almost any moving technology. Newton discovered that to move an object, it must experience a force that makes it move in a certain direction. The object set in motion will continue this motion until it experiences an opposite force. You have felt this phenomenon when riding in a roller coaster car.When the car starts moving, you rock backward because your body is not ready for a sudden forward movement. After you are moving, if the car stops you will rock forward because your body wants to keep moving forward. Think about it the next time you are riding a roller coaster.

Newton realized that when an object moves, or accelerates, in a circle, the object wants to move out, away from the circle’s center. For example,when you are riding in a car and it makes a turn, your body moves to the outside of the turn, away from the direction of the turn. The force that makes you move in a circular path, even though your body wants to move away from the turn, is called centripetal force.

For hundreds of years mankind has made an effort to fine ways to keep our society moving. We, as a society are constantly looking for ways to move at faster speeds. Just think about the evolution of the car and other modes of transportation in the last century.

What kind of impact are we going to make in sustaining our environment as technology is continuously changing?

Pretzel Power


The students will recognize the energy efficiency of different kinds of transportation and the benefits of carpooling.



Step One:

  1. KWL-What do you know about how vehicles move?
  2. Discuss what they know and what they would like to know.
  3. Divide students into groups of 2-3, each representing a different type of energy source.
    • Natural Gas
    • Propane
    • Ethanol
    • Electric Vehicles
    • Hybrid Electric Vehicles
    • Biodiesel
    • Diesel
    • Gasolin
    • Petroleum
    • Hydrogen
  4. Next, introduce the unit of study, by sharing background information on different forms of energy used for transportation.
  5. Now it’s time for them to research their energy form.
  6. Allow access to the computer, school library and/or make copies of the suggested Informational Text found at:
  7. Allow 3-6 days for students to gather information.

Step Two:

  1. Have groups create a display board, creatively, putting together acquired information on their energy source.

Suggested Materials:

  • 11X17 White/Manila Construction Paper
  • Colored Pencils/Crayons/ Markers

Step Three:

  1. Have groups present their boards.
  2. Have students complete the“L”from the KWL chart.
  3. Discuss their findings
    • What did they learn about the different types of energy sources?
    • Which one form better for them, society, or the future? Why?

Step Four:

  1. In this section, directions can be a bit tricky. However, it is a great exercise for students to apply their knowledge on energy sources used in transportation.

Pretzel Power Experiment

Prior to starting, prepare a plastic bag with ten pretzels for each group.You may do this in your classroom, however; you will need a large space.We recommend doing it outside.

  1. Have groups look up a car they would like to drive on:
  2. Or you can distribute pre-made cards found at: Elementary Transportation Fuels Info Book
  3. On 3”x5”index cards, students should record the car’s name, model year, combined miles per gallon, and the number of passengers the car holds.See samples below:
  4. Have students make three signs: one labeled “Home” one labeled “Near Town”and one labeled “Far Town”. The signs should be large enough to see from across the room.
  5. Select a large area and place the Home, Near Town, and Far Town signs on cones, poles, walls, or desks.
  6. Have students “guesstimate” where they think these locations should be.

Group members will need to determine who will represent HOME, NEAR TOWN, FAR TOWN.

  1. Distribute the bag of pretzels to each group.
  2. Tell groups not to eat the pretzels until they are told to.
  3. Explain to the students that each pretzel represents one gallon of gasoline, and each step (heel-to-toe) the student takes represents one mile traveled.
  4. Students eat a pretzel and take the appropriate number of steps before eating the next pretzel. All steps are heel-to-toe.

Round One:

  1. Using only 5 pretzels for this round. Each person will drive his/her car.
  2. Students will go to work in“ Near Town” and return “Home.” If anyone runsout of fuel (pretzels), he/she must stay at that point until round one is over.
  3. Now ask them to step heel-to-toe to Near Town approximately 50 steps from HOME.
  4. Line up at “Home” and start stepping!


  1. Which cars got you to work and home? Which didn’t?
  2. Did anyone have extra fuel remaining?
  3. What are the alternatives to driving your own car are there?

Round Two:

  1. Using the remaining five pretzels, try some of the suggestions discussed above. Expect “negotiations.” Suggest students carpool to work.
  2. Drivers may combine each passenger’s pretzels for fuel.
  3. Everyone will travel to “Far Town” and return “Home”. Line up at “Home” and start stepping!
  4. The distance to Far Town should be approximately 100 steps from HOME


  1. Who made it to “Far Town” and back? How did you do this?
  2. Who did not make it to “Far Town” and back? Why not?