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Plugged in to CO2

Lisa Gardiner, Marie Johnson, Jonathan Hoffman, Windows to the Universe

In this classroom activity, students measure the energy use of various appliances and electronics and calculate how much carbon dioxide (CO2) is released to produce that energy.

Activity takes about one to two class periods. Kill-a-watt meter and test appliances are needed for the activity.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
Other materials addressing:
6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.3 Humans and Their Societies:A) Individuals and groups
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A) Individuals and groups.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
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D) Technology.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:A) Identifying and investigating issues
Other materials addressing:
A) Identifying and investigating issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:B) Sorting out the consequences of issues
Other materials addressing:
B) Sorting out the consequences of issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Activity does not address the connection between energy awareness and climate change. This connection could be strengthened by educator.
  • Could also be done with students measuring appliances at home.
  • A good visualization would be to line the students with the appliances up in the front of the class from the largest to the smallest amount of energy used and then also from the largest and smallest amount of energy used in a typical household (e.g. waffle maker uses a lot of energy but is used very infrequently).

About the Science

  • Students actually measure energy use with a Kill-a-Watt meter.
  • Concrete activity that helps student relate their everyday experiences to the discussion of climate change.
  • Energy data is from 2009.
  • Comment from expert scientist: Activity needs better primer on the difference between power and energy needs to be taught before the exercise since most people do not know the difference. It could be explained as follows: The scientific definition of power is simply the rate of energy use that is power is equal to energy per time. Many people confuse power with energy. Knowing a particular machine's power rating tells you nothing about how much energy it will use unless you know for how long it will run. The unit of energy is the joule (J) which is the force of one Newton acting over the distance of one meter.
    As power is simply the energy flow per unit time, it is measured in watts; one watt is equal to one joule per second. One watt is also the force of one Newton acting over the distance of one meter per second. Power Joules per second or Watts Energy/time Energy Joules or Watt-second Power x time Joules or equivalently Watt-seconds are SI units international system of units.
    Energy can also be measured in Watt-hours (Wh) or kilo Watt-hours (kWh), which is how your electricity use at home is measured and how you get charged for your electricity consumption every month.
    A 100-Watt light bulb power rating is 100 W, left on for one hour it will use 100Wh of energy. In NYC it costs about 19 cents per kWh, so leaving your 100 Watt bulb on for 10 hours uses 1000 Wh or 1 kWh and would cost you $0.19.

About the Pedagogy

  • Worksheets and guidelines are all available.
  • The mix of hands-on measurements, calculations, and discussions will engage students of different learning styles.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Requires a kill-a-watt meter.
  • Access to Different Regions of the Country Use Different Fuel Mixes works only from the link under the Worksheets list.
  • The educator needs to bring appliances into the classroom for the students to measure.

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