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Systems and Scale | Activity 5.4

Activity 5.4: Explaining Other Examples of Combustion (50 min)

Target Student Performance

Students explain how matter moves and changes and how energy changes when other organic fuels burn, including (a) wood burning in a fireplace, (b) propane burning in a gas grill, and (c) octane burning in an internal combustion engine. Students view the Powers of Ten video and discuss the idea that all systems exist at multiple scales from atomic scale to the scale of the Universe.

Students choose—or you choose for them—one example of another fuel, then use the forms and procedures they used for ethanol to explain the combustion of those other fuels.

Resources Provided

Recurring Resources


Print enough copies of the three of 5.4 Other Organic Materials Readings and 5.4 Explaining Combustion Worksheets for each student to have one reading and the corresponding worksheet. In this activity, your students may use the Three Questions Explanation Checklist on the back of the Three Questions Handout. Be sure to have this available to students, and see the notes in the Modifications at the end of the Activity for ideas about how to use it. Prepare a computer and projector to display the PPT.


1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.


Assessment takes place in Step 2 when you ask students to discuss the general characteristics of combustion of organic materials. At this point, students should articulate a general pattern of what happens when organic materials burn. Students should be able to articulate the patterns for each of the Three Questions at this point. You can review previous activities if this is difficult for students.

Assessment also takes place in Step 8. Listen to the ideas your students offer as they construct a class explanation for what happens when organic materials burn. Are they able to use precise language when describing atoms, molecules, bonds, and different forms of energy? Are they able to explain this at both macroscopic and atomic-molecular scales? Do they trace matter and energy through the chemical change? Use this conversation to determine if your students are prepared for the unit posttest, which takes place in the next activity.