How Do We Convert Mechanical Energy into Electrical Energy?

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In this activity, learners use a compass, powerful magnet, and copper magnet wire to build a special generator known as a dynamo. Learners observe what happens to the compass needle when the magnet passes back and forth through the device. Learners can connect the device to a microampere meter to measure the electrical current. This experiment simulates Tesla's electric coil. To provide learners with background about Tesla, this lesson guide suggests learners watch clips from the film "Tesla: Master of Lightning," take an online interactive tour of Tesla's Niagara Power System, and create a diagram of how a dam generates electricity. Use this lesson to demonstrate the Law of Conservation of Energy.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • compass
  • powerful magnet
  • 100' small-gauge insulated copper magnet wire (#25)
  • wire cutters
  • microampere meter (optional)
  • computers to view interactive
  • paper and pencils for diagram


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
  • Physical Sciences
    • Electricity and Magnetism
      • Electric Charges and Currents
      • Electromagnetic Fields
    • Energy
      • Potential and Kinetic Energy
      • Work and Machines
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Electrical Engineering
    • Technology
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • use mouse
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Hardesty, Jim ; Hardesty, Judy


  • All rights reserved, PBS,

Funding Source: