Joules of the River

Type: Investigation

Theme: Physics

Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Learning Target: Students will study the kinetic energy of streamflow of a nearby river and compare it to the amount of energy in one gallon of gasoline.


This project will be completed in groups of three.

Question: What volume of flowing river water equals to the energy produced by one gallon of gasoline? Use a nearby river for your calculations.

Tasks to complete:

  1. Estimate. How much of the moving water in the river equals the amount of energy in one gallon of gasoline?
  2. Measure and calculate the average velocity of the river.
  3. Measure and calculate the volume of a section of the river.
  4. Calculate joules for the kinetic energy of the volume of the river (1 cubic meter = 1000 kilograms). 
  5. Find out how many joules of energy is in 1 gallon of gasoline (research, not through burning).

High school students: Creatively develop methods for solving the tasks.
Middle school students: Click here for support. 

stream flow


  1. Less than five-minute video showing your answer.
    1. Estimation
    2. Include a discussion about the kinetic energy of moving water.
    3. How much moving water equals one gallon of gasoline?
  2. Additionally, answer the following questions:
    1. How did you calculate average velocity?
    2. How did you calculate the area of the cross-section?
    3. Creative Question: Is the water being pulled or pushed as it flows? Explain.
  3. Obtain Peer Review. Revise.


Exit Ticket
CCSS Math Practice
  • I can make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • I can reason abstractly and quantitatively.
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Energy and Matter