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Jessika Richter
Jessika Richter
(Lund - Sweden)

The short and sweet: I have been a passionate teacher since 2001.  I first worked with the National Park Service in Washington (state), then moved to Australia where I completed my DipEd at the University of Melbourne and then taught at Hailebury  ...

Teaching the Environment


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a nationally accepted benchmark for design, performance and operation of green buildings. While few schools in the United States are officially labeled "green" construction, there are many smaller things that can make a school "greener," or more environmentally friendly. The LEED Rating System for Existing Buildings addresses:

  • whole-building cleaning and maintenance issues including chemical use
  • ongoing indoor air quality energy efficiency
  • water efficiency
  • recycling programs and facilities
  • exterior maintenance programs
From this rating system we can derive some fundamental questions that students can ask and research. Based on the findings, students can work toward more energy efficient and environmentally friendly building management.

1. Begin by asking the students about the definition of "green." Use any pedagogical method for brainstorming ideas that you prefer, e.g. jig saw, class call-out, or think-pair-share. After students are able to think independently and as a class, derive a workable definition for what it means to be "green."

2. Follow this discussion by asking students to reflect on how "green" they think they are and how "green" the school is. Once they have recorded their responses in a journal and discussed these responses with their neighbor, ask them what specific criteria they used to classify both themselves and their school building.

3. Discuss with them how their ideas are similar to nationally recognized benchmarks for green buildings (LEED). Teachers, review this Web site prior to the discussion: USGBC: LEED for Existing Buildings

4. Discuss how any actions in science or specifically to "green-up" a building or lifestyle should be based on information and in this case data that is easily collectable. Hand out the "What Shade of Green Is Your School?" worksheet.

5. Assign or have students volunteer for one of the six sections on the worksheet except for section three. If there is a computer lab available, have the students research the benefits of being "greener" in their assigned areas of research. What are the "greener" options?

6. Once all sections are completed (except section three), have students store their data and complete section 7.

7. If there are glass, bottle and aluminum can recycling bins in the school, have each pair of students count the number of these recyclables that are deposited in an equal number of trash cans and recycling bins. Compile class data to determine the percent of cans that are recycled and the percent of recyclable cans that end up in the general trash and then a landfill.

If your school has no recycling bins, determine the total amount of cans and bottles that could be recycled. For either case be sure to determine how long it has been since the receptacles have been emptied or changed.

Have students extrapolate how many cans are recycled and thrown away in a school year. How can the school improve on this? As an extension to this, if your state has a bottle deposit, calculate the estimated amount of money that could be made if you turned in all redeemable cans over a year. Assume the proportions that occur during the audit would remain the same.

8. Post activity discussion: Have each group share their findings with the class. This can be done as formally as needed. I often use this as an opportunity to fulfill the state requirements for various types of speaking presentations. Determine what can be changed in the school to make it more environmentally friendly. Extensions include presentations to the administration and custodial services of the findings and suggestions for change.
From the National Science Education Standards site:

CONTENT STANDARD F: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:

  • natural resources
  • environmental quality
MATHEMATICS STANDARDS From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards site:

Data Analysis and Probability Standard for Grades 9-12

Measurement Standard for Grades 9-12

Number and Operations Standard for Grades 9-12


Students will:

  • Create graphs and analyze climate data

Are you ready for a "cool" experience? I mean a really cool experience? In honor of the International Polar Year, we're going to focus in on polar oceanography. Odds are you live in "the mid-latitudes," a geographic region between about 23.5° and 66.5° latitude. According to the U.S. National Weather Service, much of the world's population lives in the mid-latitudes. Since the mid-latitudes are removed from polar regions by thousands of kilometers, you may wonder "What is the value of studying the oceans at the top or bottom of the world? and how might events in that region affect us here in the mid-latitudes?"

Consider this fact: Over 70 percent of our planet's surface is covered by water. Water by its nature has a high heat capacity, meaning it can absorb, store and release tremendous amounts of energy. Much of this energy is exchanged with the lower atmosphere, creating a strong connection between the two and making world climate largely dependent upon the ocean and currents running within it.



Distribute "Worksheet: A Virtual Visit to the Top of the World" (and make the reference sheets "U.S. Map," "Images from the Arctic" and "North Pole Weather Data From 2007" available as handouts or overheads if your class does not have Internet access).

Ask students to ponder what it would be like to visit the "top of the world." Ask them to respond to the worksheet questions, which are designed to generate class discussion. Have your students record their responses and questions raised on the handout.

Consult the key for answers and additional guidance for the Virtual Visit Worksheet.

Remind the students of their overall goal to understand polar oceanography.
Ask students to summarize the main ideas explored thus far by creating a concept map or an outline.


The first part of this lesson introduced you to the conditions experienced at the "top of the world," establishing that the Arctic Ocean underlies the ice surrounding the North Pole. We know that conditions experienced in the Arctic (and Antarctic) are quite different from those experienced where most people live. To begin to look for connections between these two diverse regions located thousands of kilometers apart, we will conduct a series of experiments designed to explore the connections between three major Earth systems: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the cryosphere.

Provide students the definitions of "atmosphere," "hydrosphere," "cryosphere" and "biosphere":

  • Cryosphere: portions of Earth covered in frozen water
Provide students the lab instructions "Lab: Investigating Convection" and review safety procedures.

Provide students the lab instructions "Lab: Investigating Density Currents" and review safety procedures.

  • This lab experiment will take one 45-minute class period.

Do ocean currents affect coastal climates?

The resources below enable you to access climatic data for two communities: St. Mawgan, England, and Daniels Harbour, Newfoundland, Canada. Both communities are located near 50°N latitude. St. Mawgan is situated on the southwestern coast of England along the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Daniels Harbour is located in Newfoundland near the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Follow the instructions below to collect climate data, process them and then finally analyze the data.

Collect the climate data:

Process the data:

Analyze the data:


Next, let's return to the Arctic and search for evidence of change. We will ask the question: Are climatic conditions changing in the Arctic and if so, how might these changes affect ocean currents?

Teacher Answer: The melting ice is adding fresh water to the Arctic Ocean. This lowers the salinity of the "open ocean" waters in that region. Since the water is less dense, its tendency to sink (due to extreme density) is reduced or eliminated.

Teacher answer: Think of the entire ocean current system as a giant conveyor belt. If one part of the belt breaks down, the balance of the belt elsewhere will be significantly changed.

Teacher answer: Fresher water carried to the mid-latitudes would eliminate the distinction between the Gulf Stream and the surrounding "open ocean" waters. In other words, the Gulf Stream is essentially floating on denser ocean waters as it carries warm water (and its energy) away from the Equator and towards the North Pole. If the density difference becomes minimal (or non-existent), the current will cease to have a recognizable identity -or in simple English - "no more Gulf Stream!" Some scientists believe this could happen over a very short period of time and may in fact be what happened during the "little ice age" that deeply impacted Europe and parts of North America.

To summarize this topic, distribute the article "Changes at Poles Drive Global Warming."
Alternatively, students may watch the online video, "Polar Warming."

Hold a full class discussion to summarize the main ideas presented within the activity:

Extension Activities
Distribute the article "Polar Year Explores How Earth Systems Interact."

Ask students to define "International Polar Year" and create of list reasons that research at the poles could be relevant to their lives. Ask students to describe the Arctic's physical environment and the reasons why it is so different from the environment students experience in the mid-latitudes.

Distribute "Extension Activity: Exploring Global Ocean Currents".  Students will need Internet access to complete this activity.


1. Much of the observed difference between the temperature patterns can be attributed to prevailing winds and the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the (warm) Gulf Stream (also known as the "North Atlantic Drift"). How might the climate change in England if the Gulf Stream were to "collapse"? If this change were to occur, what else or what other systems would be affected? Explain.

2. Use the Web site http://www.worldclimate.com to explore climatic data worldwide. Ask students to identify coastal cities on divergent coastlines with equivalent latitudes and explore differences in their climatic patterns using what they know about wind and ocean currents.


1. Have students research causes of global climate change and actions that may arrest the current warming trend. Encourage students to consider the societal and economic implications of any remediation they propose. (Ask students whether a push to produce alternative fuels, such as ethanol, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Because ethanol is also a hydrocarbon, it won't reduce emissions. Other strategies may cost more. The NewsHour Extra lesson plan "Alternative Fuels and Alternative Cars" is available.

2. Ask students to prepare a poster illustrating what they have learned, detailing the changes that may result from continued global warming in polar regions and on biotic communities living within. (Issues addressed may include climate change in their region; changes in flora, fauna, crops and growing seasons - some of which can be anticipated and some of which can not. In other words, global change could bring about some surprising changes.)



Students will be able to
1) Explain what genetically modified foods are and how they are created.
2) Use appropriate vocabulary to describe and effectively discuss the benefits of, and potential risks of, genetically modified foods.
3) Identify foods that they consume or encounter that do or likely contain genetically modified organisms and those that do not.
4) Discuss critically some of the issues that surround the GMO debate to include: globalization, safety, labeling, and impact on family farms.
GMOs are genetically modified organisms. These organisms have, in some way, had their genome altered (the "genome" is the total of all the genes in an organism of a specific species).

The creation of GMOs involves using recombinant technology to place genes from one organism into another of a different species to confer some trait. For example, Monsanto Company has placed a gene from a soil bacterium into the genome of a potato plant, giving the potato plant resistance to a common pest, the Colorado Potato Beetle. These potatoes are now commercially grown in the U.S. The pesticide that used to be sprayed on the potatoes to fight the beetle is no longer necessary.

The U.S. is the primary producer of GMO foods in the world. GMOs are often referred to correctly as "transgenic organisms" and "genetically engineered organisms." In addition to plants, many types of bacteria and animals have all been genetically engineered. Bacteria are used to produce human protein, such as insulin, through the insertion of the human gene into their genome. Additionally, goats have been engineered to produce valuable human protein in their milk and pigs to produce hemoglobin in large quantities in their blood.

For an excellent summary of GMOs and the pros and cons of this technology, visit the following Web site from the Department of Energy: Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms

This lesson is designed to expose students to the various issues surrounding GMO foods and to help them understand the complexity of the issues surrounding the biotechnology movement. Students will read aloud from two NewsHour pieces, both of which involve a variety of perspectives surrounding the GMO issue. Additionally, students will try to identify GMO foods that they have consumed and discuss the "to label or not to label" debate. At home students will be surveying family and/or peers and attempting to identify GMOs they consume on a daily basis. The article entitled "Food Crisis in Zambia" will bring a more global understanding to the issue of GMOs and will get students thinking about biotechnology, globalization and ethics.

Extension activities further explore the ethical issues surrounding GMOs, allow students to participate in government by petitioning their congressmen and congresswomen and give them an opportunity to look at biotech information from opposing interests.

All of these activities are designed to be used individually, and accordingly can be used piecemeal and in any particular order.

Activity I: (20 Minutes - 10 minutes per piece)

Students chosen by the instructor or student volunteers take on the roles of those individuals in the two Newsier pieces entitled "High Tech Food" and "Seeding the Future,"

Have the students sit in front of the class and go through the piece, acting as the interviewer and the interviewees. This could be given to the students a day or two prior to the presentation, giving them a chance to read over and highlight their parts and understand the context of their roles. This can be made more exciting for the students by acquiring a few items, such as a microphone, a lab coat, overalls etc., for the readers.

As students are reading through the interview, have the students listening jot down words and phrases with which they are unfamiliar. These can be used as a discussion piece later.

This activity and both of these articles do an excellent job of presenting to students the many perspectives on the GMO food debate. This activity could be used to introduce the topic or to kickoff a class discussion or a more formal debate.

Here are the cast of characters for "High Tech Food"

Announcer/Spokesman: Reads all non-specific text and part of Ray Suarez
Paul Solman: WGBH Business Correspondent (main speaking role)
Andrew Waber: Pioneer Hi-Bred Representative
Peg Armstrong-Gustafson: Pioneer Hi-Bred Representative
Sue Roberts: Nutrition Consultant
George Naylor: Farmer
Neil Hamilton: Agricultural Law Professor, Drake University
Robert Shapiro: Monsanto CEO
Dermont Hayes: Economist, Iowa State University

Here are the cast of characters for "Seeding the Future."

Announcer/Spokesman: Introduces the piece and reads abstract
Tom Bearden: Correspondent (main speaking role)
Tim Hume: Farmer
John Losey: Cornell University
Val Giddings: Biotechnology Industry Organization
Jane Rissler: Union of Concerned Scientists
Dan Peters: Farmer

Activity II: Group Brainstorming and Reporting Out (15 - 20 minutes)

Following the readings, students should work in groups of 2 or 3. Outfit each group with large sheets of construction or other paper and markers. This activity will act to assure that students all understand exactly what a GMO is and as well ask them to revisit the NewsHour pieces they just heard and pick out the salient arguments behind each perspective. Instructors could provide each group with a printed copy of the pieces.

In groups of 2 or 3, students will complete 2 brief activities:

    1. Each group must produce a list of the steps a biotechnologist would need to conduct in order to create a GMO. You could use corn or soybeans as a concrete example.
#2. Each group must generate a list of the benefits and potential risks of GMO foods to farmers, consumers and the environment. They could place these into a simple table.

Engage in a classroom discussion, asking students from each group to report out until it is clear that all students understand how GMOs are generated in the laboratory and all benefits and risks have been explored and topics exhausted. This is very open ended. If they arise, you may want to forgo more ethical discussions to include in Activity III.

Activity III: Global Ethics and Classroom Discussion (10 - 15 minutes)

The following article entitled "Food Crisis in Zambia" from the NewsHour Extra Web site is a great article to jump-start discussions that bring together biotechnology, globalization and ethics. Here is an excerpt from the article. This is a short article which can be quickly read in class. Students will be excited to speak up about the issues raised in this article.

"The debate within the country cuts across political and class lines. Refusing GM foods was popular with the urban elite who saw the issue as a test of national strength. Hungry villagers, however, wanted the food aid, but lacked the political power to accomplish this goal, according to foreign diplomats in the country."

Activity IV - follow-up #1 (homework)

Challenge the students to bring to the next class a product from their home or grocery store that contains GMOs, and information to back up their claim. Alternatively, and a much easier assignment, you could challenge the students to arrive at the next class with foods they know do not have any GMOs. The class could also be split down the middle. It will make for interesting and engaging discussion and will make the issues real to the students. It should be surprising that it is so difficult to discover whether foods have GMOs, but simple to determine that they do not contain any.

The following is a Web site that lists many of the foods we find on our shelves and which of these contain GMOs. You can decide whether or not to share this Web site with them when you give the assignment. True Food Shopping Guide Either way, students will be amazed at the number of foods they eat regularly that contain GMOs (even baby food!).

Activity V - follow-up #2 (homework)

Have students poll their families and friends regarding GMOs and their consumption of GMOs. You can use the poll questions below or preferably generate the questions as a class. Each student should poll 3-5 other people and tally results in class.

1. Do you know what a GMO (genetically modified organism) is?
2. Have you consumed any GMO foods in the past week? If so, how many (times)?
3. Do you think the government should require genetically modified foods to be labeled as such?

Extension Activities
Extension Activity 1: A week prior to the classroom discussion have students find articles online about transgenic plants and animals. There are literally hundreds out there. Having the students highlight words in the article they are unfamiliar with can help you assess the class' understanding.

I encourage my students to find short articles that bring up ethical issues or that are intrinsically interesting, like articles about glowing bunny rabbits and goats that produce spider silk in their milk. Collect the articles, sort through them and pick a few that best lend themselves to an effective classroom discussion.

Copy the selected articles and place them into folders. I use 13 folders, each with about 8 short articles. Place the folders around the room. Students can peruse the articles so that there is a common vocabulary and background for an effective classroom discussion. This discussion can be used not only to discuss the ethical implications of the new technology but also to work out any misunderstanding students might still have.

Extension Activity 2: At the following Web site students will find form letters and petitions and easy ways to get their message to others about labeling genetically modified foods. You may find that some students want to take further action regarding GMOs and labeling. The Campaign

Extension Activity 3: This activity is designed to get the students thinking critically about companies and propaganda. The two sites below have very different viewpoints of GMO foods and both have very different interests in the success or failure of this new technology. In addition to working from these two sites, encourage students to find other sites that could serve as similar examples.

Have students, working in pairs, visit the Web sites below and

1. summarize the attitude towards GMO foods presented by the company
2. discuss the economic and social impact GMO foods have/could have on the

Whole Foods Markets -- Issues

Monsanto -- Conversations about Plant Biotechnology

Extension Activity 4: The fourth section of the book "The Botany of Desire" is dedicated to the history of the potato plant, its impact on history and as much to the production of the NewLeaf potato plant, a GMO plant that has been modified to be resistant to the Colorado Potato Beetle. The author visits the Monsanto laboratories and explains how these plants are produced in a lab. He grows that plant himself and compares their progress in his garden to his unmodified plants and finally he visits farmers in Idaho being affected by the move to GMO potatoes. You could attempt to read the entire chapter to your students which would take a significant amount of time, or read only those sections dedicated to the new leafs. The section in which he visits the Monsanto labs provides a good picture of how biotech companies develop such GMOs.


CONTENT STANDARD E: Understanding Science and Technology
Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies. Solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. New technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research.

CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Science and technology are essential social enterprises, but alone they can only indicate what can happen, not what should happen. The latter involves human decisions about the use of knowledge.

Understanding basic concepts and principles of science and technology should precede active debate about the economics, policies, politics, and ethics of various science- and technology-related challenges. However, understanding science alone will not resolve local, national, or global challenges.

Progress in science and technology can be affected by social issues and challenges. Funding priorities for specific health problems serve as examples of ways that social issues influence science and technology.

Science and technology are essential social enterprises, but alone they can only indicate what can happen, not what should happen. The latter involves human decisions about the use of knowledge. [See Content Standard E (grades 9-12) ]

Understanding basic concepts and principles of science and technology should precede active debate about the economics, policies, politics, and ethics of various science- and technology-related challenges. However, understanding science alone will not resolve local, national, or global challenges.

Progress in science and technology can be affected by social issues and challenges. Funding priorities for specific health problems serve as examples of ways that social issues influence science and technology.

Individuals and society must decide on proposals involving new research and the introduction of new technologies into society. Decisions involve assessment of alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits and consideration of who benefits and who suffers, who pays and gains, and what the risks are and who bears them. Students should understand the appropriateness and value of basic questions--"What can happen?"--"What are the odds?"--and "How do scientists and engineers know what will happen?"

Humans have a major effect on other species. For example, the influence of humans on other organisms occurs through land use--which decreases space available to other species--and pollution--which changes the chemical composition of air, soil, and water.

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop
· Abilities of technological design
· Understandings about science and technology

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:
Personal and community in local, national, and health
Science and technology global challenges




In a year when Americans experienced record high prices at the gas pumps and winter heating costs are projected to soar nearly fifty percent, consumers are looking for ways to lower their energy costs for businesses, homes, schools, and transportation. Our primary energy sources today are fossil fuels, which are being depleted at an alarming rate. According to some, if consumption continues at the current rate, the fossil fuel supply could be gone before the end of the century. In addition to the cost and supply issues, scientists have long warned of the environmental damage caused by burning fossil fuels. In short, we are at a crossroads. Americans must use and develop alternate forms of energy to help us power our homes, automobiles, and businesses into the future without destroying the Earth's environment. Exploring the use of renewable and alternative resources is a must in today's world.

1. Introduce the idea of exploring alternative energy sources by asking students the following questions and allowing 2-3 minutes to discuss each one.

  • How would you feel if you were no longer able to go on school field trips or participate in extracurricular activities because of the high cost of transportation to and from these events?
  • How would you feel about attending school only four days each week knowing that you would have to attend an additional three weeks in the summer to make up for the shorter school week?
  • How would you feel about having a longer school day, attending for an additional 1-2 hours each day so that the school would only have to be open four days each week?
  • How would you feel about having fewer bus routes resulting in longer commutes for you each day?
  • How do you think your learning would be effected if you were in a classroom that was only heated to 60 or 65 degrees?
2. Distribute and/or share the NewsHour Extra article entitled, "High Gas Prices Could Mean Cold Classrooms and Canceled Trips" available at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/july-dec05/gascosts_11-21.html. As a class, read the article and discuss what some schools are being forced to do because of the rising cost of fuel for buses and heating school buildings. Make the impact of the rising cost of gasoline and providing heat by having students complete the following equations.

  • Assume you or your parents (if you are not old enough to drive) own a car that has a 15 gallon gasoline tank. The average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $2.10 one year ago. Today, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is $3.00. Calculate how much more it is costing you to fill your car with gas each month assuming that you fill your car once each week and there are 4 weeks in each month. Answer: $54.00 per month
  • Home heating bills typically rise during the winter because of the colder weather. This year experts predict this cost to rise up to 44% in some areas of the country. Calculate how much this increase will amount to each month if your typical home heating bill was $150 per month last winter. Answer: $66.00 each month
  • Add together the total additional expense you will incur each month based on the two math problems above. Answer: $120.00 per month
  • How will this extra expense impact you and your family?
3. Using the chart entitled "American Energy Sources" available at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/infrastructure/power/, (scroll down to Charts and Graphs and click on U.S. Fuel and Energy Sources), discuss the fact that the vast majority of U.S. energy comes from fossil fuels. At this time, conduct a short class discussion that includes information such as:

  • What are fossil fuels?
  • How do these types of fuels contribute to the production of greenhouse gasses and global warming?
  • What do we mean when we say these types of resources are nonrenewable?
4. Pose a question such as:

  • What are some renewable resources that can be used to generate power for vehicles, homes, schools, businesses, and manufacturing?
5. As a class, make a list of all of the renewable resources that students can think of and record them on the board or overhead for all to see. NOTE: A list of renewable resources and related words along with their definitions appears below for use with this activity.

  • Renewable resource: natural resource that is depleted at a rate slower than the rate at which it regenerates (i.e. solar energy)
  • nonrenewable resource: resources for which there are no ways to replenish the supply (i.e. fossil fuels)
  • fossil fuels: also known as mineral fuels, they are hydrocarbon containing natural resources such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas
  • solar energy: harnessing the energy produced by sunlight
  • wind power: using the kinetic energy of the wind or wind turbines to extract the wind's energy
  • hydropower: energy obtained from flowing water
  • geothermal energy: electricity generated by utilizing naturally occurring geological heat sources
  • hydrogen fuel cells: electrochemical cell in which the energy of a reaction between fuel, such as liquid hydrogen, and an oxidant, such as liquid oxygen, is converted into electrical energy
  • nuclear energy: energy released from the nucleus of an atom creating an nuclear reaction
  • LED: light emitting diodes: a semiconductor device that emits light using a variety of inorganic materials
  • greenhouse gasses: gaseous components of the atmosphere including carbon dioxide and ozone, among others. They contribute to the greenhouse effect
  • global warming: an increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans increasing the greenhouse effect
6. Once the list has been recorded, ask a questions such as:

  • If all of these resources are available, why aren't they being more widely used to power our country?
Facilitate a discussion about the reasons why renewable energy sources are not widely used. Be sure to include information about cost, reliability, and access.

7. Now that students have a basic understanding of the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources and some of the issues surrounding U.S. energy needs and consumption, present them with the following scenario:

  • The year is 2040 and Americans are in trouble. The world's supply of fossil fuels is being rapidly depleted. As a result, drivers are paying $20 per gallon for gasoline, and the cost of heating and cooling homes, businesses, and schools has forced many public buildings to close because of their inability to pay for energy. Families and industry are suffering as well. Goods can't be transported across the country, and many people must endure extreme heat and cold because energy costs are so high. Add to this the ill health of the Earth's environment, ravaged for years by greenhouse gasses and the effects of global warming. The situation is critical. Alternative energy sources must be developed so that Americans can have reliable, efficient, environmentally friendly ways to run their cars, power their manufacturing plants, and heat and cool their businesses, schools, and homes.
8. Go further into the simulation by telling students:

  • You and your partner are scientists who have been instructed to find ways to solve the energy crisis being faced by the U.S. You will be assigned a specific task related to solving this nationwide crisis. It will be up to you and your partner to research, design, and teach others about an alternative form of energy that can be used to safely meet the energy demands of the population without an extremely high price or further damage to the environment.
9. Using the Project List handout, assign each pair of students a specific topic to research. Students should record their research findings on the Research Guide handout. Encourage them to visit the Web sites listed in the Online Resources section of the guide.

10. Once research is completed, students must then create a model, experiment, diagram, or some type of interactive or multimedia type of display that they can use to teach classmates about how a specific renewable resource or new form of energy can be used to power America. Students should use their persuasive speaking skills to convince their classmates that their source of energy/power is better than the current fossil fuels being used.

11. After all groups have presented their projects, facilitate a final class discussion about the development of alternative energy sources. Include questions such as:

  • What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of using alternative energy sources?
  • Would you consider using an alternative energy source to power your car or heat your home? Why or why not?
  • What do you think will happen if renewable alternative energy sources are not developed and used widely by the general public? Explain your answer.
Extension Activity
1. Have students research and discuss ways that they can be actively involved in cutting their own energy consumption. Each student should create a chart describing what he/she is doing to conserve energy and should track how much energy they are saving each day or week by changing their behavior and usage patterns.

2. Invite a panel of local energy experts to visit the classroom to discuss and show students examples of alternative energy sources that are being developed for use in the community.

3. Hold an energy fair in the school and invite students from other classrooms or grade levels to visit a booth showcasing each pair of students and their project. Encourage students to share what they have learned about alternative and renewable energy sources with others as they look at the displays created by each pair.

4. Create an energy awareness campaign in the school and encourage all students to learn more about energy conservation and alternative energy sources through a series of announcements, commercials, flyers, etc.

National Standards
McRel Compendium of K-12 Standards Addressed:

Standard 7: Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface
Standard 11: Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's
Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
Standard 16: Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and
importance of resources
Standard 18: Understands global development and environmental issues

Physical Science
Standard 9: Understands the sources and properties of energy

Standard 3: Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation

Language Arts
Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Standard 3: Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written composition
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of
informational texts

Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Working with Others
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills




  • Internet access
  • Online NewsHour In-depth Coverage of Alternative Fuels which includes: Background:

    Americans love their cars. Most Americans use gasoline-powered cars to commute, run errands, take family vacations, and get places they want to go. Americans consume 25 percent of the world's oil each year, but the country only provides 2-3 percent of the world's oil resources, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. As demand for oil grows, car manufacturers and scientists have been looking for alternatives fuels to reduce cost, dependence on international sources of oil, and the amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

    Today's typical car releases "greenhouse gases." Ozone, Nitrogen Oxides, and carbon monoxide are pollutants that come from motorized vehicles when fuel is burned up in internal combustion engines to produce energy to move the car forward. People have been using this type of engine for over 100 years.

    Gasoline is an aliphatic hydrocarbon, which means it is made up of molecules composed of hydrogen and carbon arranged in chains. Gasoline is made from crude oil. The crude oil pumped out of the ground is called petroleum.

    Many new cars have been designed to use alternative fuels to run the engine. Alternative fuels for vehicles are any materials or substances that can be used as a fuel, other than conventional fossil fuels (oil and natural gas). The alternative fuels discussed here today include Ethanol (E85), natural gas (CNG), electric, hydrogen, and biodiesel.

    Ethanol is an alcohol produced from feed corn that is used to fuel internal combustion engines, either alone or in combination with other fuels. When alcohol fuel (ethanol) is mixed into gasoline, the result is labeled with an 'E' followed by the percentage of Ethanol. E10 is commonly found throughout the southern United States and E85 refers to an 85 percent ethanol fuel. To be considered an alternative fuel vehicle (for tax incentives), the car or truck must be able to operate on up to 85 percent ethanol.

    Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is high-pressure compressed natural gas, mainly composed of methane that is used to fuel normal combustion engines instead of gasoline. Gasoline cars can be retrofitted to compressed natural gas and become natural gas vehicles (NGVs) that use both gasoline and compressed natural gas.

    Electric vehicles run on the chemical energy of batteries. Electric vehicles produce no emissions while being driven. The electrical energy to power the motors comes from battery packs. Battery powered cars have primarily used lead-acid batteries and NiMH batteries.

    Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen and produce no harmful emissions. In hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hydrogen is stored as a pressurized gas in the car's fuel tanks. The electricity feeds a storage battery that energizes the vehicle's electric motor.

    Biodiesel is a processed fuel derived from biological sources (such as vegetable oils), which can be used in diesel-engine vehicles. Biodiesel is biodegradable and largely non-toxic. Most cars need to be modified to run on 100 percent biodiesel, but nearly all diesel engine cars can run on a blend of biodiesel without modifications.

    Using the interactive, you can find additional information about the above fuels (click on more info. under each fuel) and you will learn about cost and carbon dioxide emissions of using the various alternative fuels. When discussing the different fuels, keep in mind the accessibility and availability of the different fuels according to different lifestyles, i.e., how far away is the nearest hydrogen pump? Or where will the biodiesel come from? Also keep in mind the constraints of different types of fuels, i.e., if you want to go on a long trip in an electric vehicle, where will you recharge the car?


    Guiding the Lesson:

    For Homework and background to the topic, have the students watch the NewsHour Report, "Ethanol Boom Aids Farmers, but Stirs Environmental Concerns" , which is available as streaming video or a written transcript and/or have students read the Online NewsHour Reports, "Case Study: Switch to Unleaded Gas" and "Ethanol: Questions Loom".

    People have been using gasoline engines for over 100 years; why is it a problem now? Guide students to discuss the impact of increasing numbers of motor vehicles over time on air quality, oil resources, public health, and the economy (personal/family finances).

    Students should keep in mind that carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, is emitted from conventional gasoline vehicles; too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributes to global warming. The human activity that has the largest impact on climate change is driving a vehicle. For each gallon of gasoline burned, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

    Every million gallons of gasoline consumed by vehicles releases about 10,000 U.S. tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The population of the United States uses approximately 420 million gallons of gasoline per day. So, just from gasoline, the United States releases over 8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per day, according to the Department of Energy, Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC).

    Researchers and car manufacturers have looked into the problems associated with conventional gasoline-burning cars and have been developing vehicles that use alternative fuels. Advise students that good shoppers research what is out there before they purchase items, especially big-ticket items like cars. Good sellers know what is out there so they can make comparisons to win over their buyers.

    Today the students are going to go shopping for different types of cars. They are going to examine several issues: What does it mean to be environmentally friendly in terms of vehicles? What are some vehicles that they have heard of that might be considered green because they use alternative fuels, and why? How would the seller of an automobile use these different pieces of information to sell his particular car? What are the characteristics of a green vehicle if they were going to buy one? For instance, how much gas it uses (mpg), the cost of fuel, how much air pollution it puts out. What does it mean to be fuel-efficient?

    Because buying a car is a big decision, it is important to do "comparison shopping." Many magazines, books, and Web sites rate and compare vehicles. Use an overhead projector to familiarize the students with the Online NewsHour Interactive: "How Does Your Car Stack Up?" by comparing their family's car to other cars that use alternative fuels. Give short explanations of each of the fuels used in the cars on the Interactive.

    Student Activity:

    It is now time to buy and sell. Your students have looked at some alternative fuel options: biodiesel, ethanol, electricity (batteries), hydrogen and compressed natural gas.

    Divide the students into groups:

    Selling: Have the "seller" students sign up in groups of two to represent a category of alternative fuel to sell, including one group for conventional gasoline. Designate the groups by fuel type, not by car make and model. Encourage students to be scientific, creative, and persuasive in their arguments to the buyers about the cars available in their fuel type. Have students work on their pitches for homework, researching not only their type of fuel, but the others as well, so they can give compelling comparisons to their buyers. The sellers will need to be able to discuss each of the fuel types to be successful salespeople.

    Buying: Have the "buyer" students sign up in groups of two to represent a variety of different types of buyers. Buyers need to be very well educated before they choose a car. Give them a profile of their socio-economic backgrounds to guide them in their decision.

    Examples include but are not limited to the following. You are a:

    1. family of four that takes two vacations to the beach (that is 300 miles away by car) each year and commutes 250 miles per week from their home in the suburbs.
    2. married couple with one car, sharing it for commutes to two different jobs each, up to 400 miles per week, family income less than $50,000 per year.
    3. family of 3 with more than $100,000 income that lives in the city and uses public transportation to commute.
    4. single person who commutes 50 percent of the time about 100 miles per week, but likes to go hiking to the country on the weekends.
    5. family of 5 who lives in rural America with no commute, but most travel 40 miles each way to buy household items.
    Students can also come up with additional socioeconomic backgrounds or use their own family as a model.

    Use the rest of the class period for student groups to meet and design their pitches or decide what might be important to a particular buyer. For homework, have the students research the different kinds of fuels and how they meet their needs. They should be prepared to come in the next class ready for the alternative fuel sales event.

    Have the buyers meet with each of the seller groups for 5-10 minutes to hear their pitches and ask questions. Use the Alternative Fuels Worksheet (PDF) to record the pros and cons of each type of fuel. At the end of the class, the buyers should present to the group which car they decided to buy and why. This can be done as formally as needed and provide an opportunity to fulfill the state requirements for various types of speaking presentations.

    Post activity discussion:

    Have each buyer group share their decisions with the class. Discuss the socioeconomic, accessibility, financial, and environmental issues that were used to make decisions. There will be no right and wrong answers for automobile choices, as they depend on each person's needs, finances, and choices about the environment. Teachers may use additional class time to have the groups trade places and use different car makes and models.

    Additional Resources for Teachers:

    There are several Web sites that provide more information on the topic:











    National Standards

    Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
    Standard 16: Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources
    Standard 18: Understands global development and environmental issues

    Standard 13: Understands the scientific enterprise
    Earth and Space Sciences
    Standard 1: Understands atmospheric processes
    Life Sciences
    Standard 6: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment

    Standard 3: Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation

    Language Arts
    Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
    Standard 3: Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written composition
    Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

    Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
    Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

    Standard 3: Understands the concept of prices and the interaction of supply and demand in a market economy
    Standard 5: Understands unemployment, income, and income distribution in a market economy

    Listening and Speaking
    Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

    Standard 3: Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual
    Standard 4: Understands the nature of technological design
    Standard 6: Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology

    Working with Others
    Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
    Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

LESSON PLAN: Mercury in the Environment


Subjects: Chemistry, geology, environmental science

Time: 1 to 2 class periods

Lesson Objectives:
To develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.
To develop an understanding of chemical reactions, structures and properties of matter
To develop an understanding of geochemical cycles
To develop abilities in science and technology
To develop decision-making skills in natural and human-induced hazards

Competencies - Students will:

  • Be informed of new EPA regulations on the emissions of mercury by coal-fire power plants.
  • Identify a major human-related source of mercury in the environment.
  • Identify regions in the United States that are affected most by mercury emissions.
  • Summarize the dangers of mercury in humans.
  • Calculate the percent composition of coal to determine the amount of dangerous contaminants present.
  • View an analogous demonstration of how mercury is detected in a lab sample.
In March, 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency announced new rules for mercury that power plants release into the air when they burn coal to make electricity. The plan, called the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), is designed to limit the tonnage of mercury that is released per year. The goal is to reduce mercury emissions from 48 tons per year to 38 tons per year in 2010 and 15 tons per year by 2018.

Coal-burning electric plants are the largest cause of avoidable mercury emissions. Other sources of mercury pollution in the environment include the disposal of batteries, thermometers, and gas meters. Not all mercury emissions are from industrial sources. Mercury is released into the air when volcanoes erupt and mercury-containing rocks contaminate ground water.

Mercury is dangerous to humans. High levels of mercury in a human can affect the nervous system and is especially harmful to unborn children in the womb. The most common way a person is exposed to mercury pollution is through eating fish. Lakes become contaminated when mercury compounds in the air mix with water vapor and fall as rain. The mercury is absorbed into the fatty tissues of fish, which pass that mercury on when the fish is eaten.

Coal is a solid hydrocarbon. It has 12 to 50 carbon atoms per molecule and over twice that number of hydrogen atoms. In addition, there are many impurities that are left over from the original organic material that made the coal. Oxygen, nitrogen (from plants), silicon (from shells), aluminum, iron, calcium (from bones), magnesium, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus are common in coal.

How did mercury get into the coal in the first place? Coal is a rock formed from plant material that has been compressed by overlaying rock for hundreds of millions of years. The three major contaminants in coal (mercury, arsenic, and sulfur) were not a part of the living organisms that made the coal. These elements seeped into the coal beds through ground water or during a time when the land was flooded with ocean water. Coal seams that are low in sulfur (termed "sweet" instead of "sour") and low in other contaminants had a layer of impermeable rock overlaying the coal bed.

Correlation to National Standards

Materials Needed (handouts provided in printer-friendly PDF format)

1. Have students watch "EPA Limits Mercury Emissions" for background on the new EPA rules. The students should think about these questions as they view the video:

  • Why is mercury harmful to humans?
  • How much of the mercury emitted is actually harmful?
  • How will industry be able to reduce emissions by two-thirds?
After the video, ask the students for answers to these questions.

2. Then, ask students, "What is mercury oxide?" Only half of the mercury emissions are harmful to humans. The byproduct of burning coal, mercury oxide, causes nerve damage in humans. Try to write a reaction for elemental mercury becoming mercury oxide. (Hint: Hg loses 2 electrons to become Hg+2)
Answer: 2 Hg + O2 2HgO

3. Reading: How does mercury oxide go from the power plant smokestack to humans? Have students read the short article, "Mercury Contamination of Aquatic Ecosystems" by the USGS and answer the questions below.

  • In the late 1980s, where was mercury found in the environment?
  • If only 1 gram of mercury is deposited into a small lake each year, why does mercury appear in game fish? (hint: biomagnifications)
  • Using figures 4 and 6, trace the path that mercury takes from the air to humans.
  • Under what conditions will mercury spread faster through an ecosystem?
  • How does inorganic mercury [mercuric oxide or HgO] turn into organic mercury [methyl mercury or CH3Hg+]? How is it transmitted from there?
  • List three natural sources and three human-related sources for mercury to be in the environment.
  • After the CAIR plan takes effect and coal-burning plants release less mercury, when will researchers see a significant difference in lakes?
4. Conduct the Hands-on Activity using the "Percent Mercury in Coal Handout" provided in the materials section of the lesson.

5. To end the lesson, conduct the following demonstration: Testing for mercury in coal and in drinking water.

The EPA approved method for detecting the amount of mercury in drinking water is the same method that coal mines use to rank their product. The general method is called "cold vapor atomic absorption spectrophotometry". This instrument takes advantage of mercury's tendency to absorb certain wavelengths of light. Here is an overview:

  1. Mercury is separated from the sample of coal or drinking water.
    b. Since mercury tends to bond with the element gold, a "gold trap" is often used to isolate the mercury vapors when the sample is heated. (Mercury is often used at gold mines in the same way to trap gold.) An alternate method is to heat the sample in a closed container with concentrated acid.
    c. The mercury vapor is converted to HgO, a highly volatile compound.
    d. Vapors are sent through the spectrophotometer, which shines a certain wavelength of light that will be absorbed by mercury. The more light that is absorbed, the more mercury in the sample.
Using this in class:
1. Prepare several different cups with mostly transparent beads and some opaque beads. The opaque beads represent mercury.
2. Shine a bright light underneath a glass beaker so that the light shines on the ceiling and it is easy to see. The larger the light and the beaker, the better the effect.
3. Slowly pour one cup of beads into the beaker until the bottom of the beaker is 1 bead deep. This represents the vapor coming from the test sample.
4. Repeat this demo using samples that increase in mercury contamination until the last sample blocks most of the light.

Correlation to National Science Education Standards:
Science as Inquiry
Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications
Physical Science
Chemical reactions
Structure and properties of matter
Life Science
Interdependence of organisms
Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
Earth Science
Geochemical cycles
Origin of the earth system
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Natural and human-induced hazards
Science and technology in national challenges




Hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes, and other extraordinary weather events have been a big part of the news headlines in the U.S. for months. With a record number of named hurricanes and tropical storms and killer tornadoes striking in November, many are asking, "What's up with the weather?" The winter forecast for much of the U.S. calls for above normal temperatures, with some areas experiencing a winter with temperatures as high as 20 or more degrees above normal. Looking at past weather patterns, weather cycles, and what causes these patterns and cycles can help students understand more about the type of weather events we are experiencing and what is contributing to what many consider to be unusual weather and maybe even a change in the world's climate.


Part 1: Weather Quiz
1. To get students interested in the weather topics being discussed, begin by using the overhead or a photocopied version of the Weather Quiz to see what students already know about the topic.

2. Using the answers to the questions on the Weather Quiz, discuss and teach students basic information about the weather events and topics that are part of the quiz.

NOTE: The Weather Quiz Key contains a number of links to specific Web sites, articles, graphic organizers, and other resources that can be used to teach students basic information about the ideas/events featured in each question.

Part 2: Hypothesizing About the Weather
1. Once you have completed the class discussion using the weather quiz, ask students the following questions:

  • Is the Earth's weather changing, or is the weather we have seen this year and in recent years just part of the Earth's natural weather cycle?
  • Assume the weather is changing. In your opinion what is causing these changes?
Facilitate a short discussion about this question. Have students use their prior knowledge to hypothesize about the answer to this question.

2. Direct students to read the following articles in small groups. This can be done by accessing the Web sites directly or by providing printed versions of the articles for students. As students read, they should be thinking about the questions from step 1 above and looking for data that will help them answer the two questions. Students should use the Finding the Facts worksheet to document what they learn.

3. When groups have completed the Finding the Facts worksheet, conduct a class discussion about what students have learned about the Earth's changing weather and the factors that could be contributing to this change.

Part 3: Learning About Weather Topics
1. Divide the class into pairs or small groups. Using the topics listed below as well as those you provide as well, assign each group/pair to conduct research and create an interactive project or presentation that they can use to teach their classmates about the topic they have been assigned. Following the Project Guidelines, each group should be prepared to teach their classmates about what they have learned.

Topic List:

  • How Do Hurricanes Form?
  • How Has the Weather Changed in the Past 10 Years?
  • What Causes a Tornado?
  • What is Global Warming?
  • How Do We Forecast the Weather?
  • What are the Effects of Rising Global Temperatures on People, Plants, Animals, and Ecosystems? (this could be split into 4 different projects)
  • What are the Positive Effects of Global Warming?
  • What is the Historically Normal Weather Pattern for Your Area of the U.S. and How has the Pattern Changed Over the Past Ten Years?
  • What Can be Done to Combat Global Warming?
  • Other: create your own project and get teacher approval
2. Have pairs/groups share their projects with their classmates as they teach them about the topic they have been assigned.

Extension Activity
1. Using The Farmer's Almanac http://www.almanac.com/weathercenter/ or similar resources, create a graph or chart that compares the weather from 10, 20, 50, and 100 years ago. Document precipitation, average temperatures, number of damaging storms (tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc.). Using the graphs and charts, draw conclusions about whether or not the weather and climate in your region is changing or has stayed the same over the past century.

2. Using what you have learned about weather, make a long term weather forecast for your region. Compare your forecast to what experts are forecasting. Provide specific reasons why you forecasted the weather the way you did. Keep track of the weather for the following months and go back and assess the accuracy of your forecast at the end of the season.

National Standards
McRel Compendium of K-12 Standards Addressed:

Standard 1: Understands atmospheric processes and the water cycle
Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry

Standard 7: Knows the physical processes that shape patterns on Earth's surface

Language Arts
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of
informational texts

Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Working with Others
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills



Antarctica is the coldest continent on Earth and one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet.  Despite the presence of glaciers, sea ice, permafrost, limited sunlight and fiercely cold temperatures, Antarctica still contains an abundance of resources, both living and non-living.  These resources attract the attention of an increasing number of researchers and tourists from all over the world.  How does their presence affect this land and its resources?


PDF - All above materials as one file

Activity 1:  Team Snapshot of Antarctica

Divide the class into appropriate teams.  Review the instructions and rubric with the students on the handout.  Ask the students to prepare a PowerPoint slide show or a poster in their teams.  The student will need time to research their topic.


After all teams have completed their research, and PowerPoint or posters, select a team member to present the information to the class.

Check for Understanding

Ask students to complete the four-square "Antarctic Ecosystems Organizer" as presentations are made.

Following the presentations, lead a discussion addressing these questions:

  • What types of environmental problems can result from the threat found?
  • Why is it difficult for polar ecosystems to recover from environmental damage?
  • How has global warming affected Antarctica?
  • Why do you think there are no indigenous people in Antarctica?
Activity 2: Lab: -- Waste and Antarctic Ice

Distribute the lab instructions.  Review safety procedures based on the materials used in the experiments.

Activity 3:  Research and Tourism in Antarctica

Divide the class into small groups.  Distribute Research and Tourism Handouts. One set of groups will explore research operations in Antarctica, the other set of groups will explore tourism in Antarctica

Be sure that each member of the group has a task.

Students will need to use the Internet, in addition to the resources provided, to answer the questions.

When the students have completed their research and prepared their findings, lead a discussion:

  1. Would you like to go to Antarctica?  Why or why not?  What aspect of travel to Antarctica would you like the most? What aspect would you like the least?
  2. Should there be limits to research operations and or tourism in Antarctica? If so, how would you limit research?
  3. Should we limit the total number of people that visit Antarctic yearly?  What would the limit be and why?
Extension Activities
Adapting this Lesson

Below Level Learners: Participate by making labeled diagrams and sketches of projects.

Advanced Learners: Research and debate international agreements associated with Antarctic Treaties. Discuss challenges to the treaties and risks for member nations.

English Language Learners: Write out vocabulary lists related to polar ecosystems.

National Science Education Standards

CONTENT STANDARD F: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:

  • Natural resources
  • Environmental quality
  • Natural and human-induced hazards
  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges