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Ecological Footprint

Connecticut Energy Education

Students explore their own Ecological Footprint in the context of how many Earths it would take if everyone used the same amount of resources they did. They compare this to the Ecological Footprint of individuals in other parts of the world and to the Ecological footprint of a family member when they were the student's age.

Activity takes about two to four class periods but part of the activity can also be assigned as homework.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPe
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPg

Energy Literacy

Some populations are more vulnerable to impacts of energy choices than others.
Other materials addressing:
7.6 Vulnerable populations.
Human demand for energy is increasing.
Other materials addressing:
6.3 Demand for energy is increasing.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

4. Personal and Civic Responsibility:D) Accepting personal responsibility
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D) Accepting personal responsibility.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
Other materials addressing:
A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:C) Resources
Other materials addressing:
C) Resources.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action
Other materials addressing:
C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of action.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.2 Decision-Making and Citizenship Skills:B) Evaluating the need for citizen action
Other materials addressing:
B) Evaluating the need for citizen action.

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

  • For younger students, the last several steps could be considered extension activities or project-based assessment.
  • Some students, especially those who struggle with reading or math, may need additional scaffolding or instruction.
  • Educators should explain that the calculation assumes that everyone on Earth uses the same amount of resources. It does not mean that an individual uses one or two Earths by themselves.
  • It is suggested that the PowerPoint not be done in class but be assigned to be viewed as homework.
  • The reviewers were concerned that collecting personal data to be shared might make some students uncomfortable. However, the lower income students will probably be shown to be the “good guys.” In any case, educators should be sensitive to this and adjust how they conduct the activity in their classes appropriately.
  • Comment from expert scientist: The discussion on limited arable land could also bring up topics such as fertilizer overuse and other means that people use to grow more on the same amount of land.

About the Science

  • The lesson begins with the educator using an apple to represent Earth while identifying usable farmland on Earth. The apple analogy is probably the right order of magnitude, but some numbers given are not correct; and it should be stressed that the apple-Earth analogy is very crude: Oceans are actually ~70% of the Earth's surface, not 75%. Educator might have to review if 50% of land surface is desert and of the 50% remaining how much is cold, steep, or rocky? The skin of the apple is described as representing the crust. If it does represent the crust, then it represents the soil plus the rock below. The thickness of the top soil, on the scale of the apple, would be invisible to the human eye.
  • The Ecological Footprint calculator is a black box. It is not clear how the calculator comes up with the number of Earths for an individual. Also, it should be made clear that it is not the student that is using, for example, 7 Earths, 7 Earths would be used if everyone lived like that student did.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is a high-interest activity that makes the learning relevant.
  • The students are collecting their own data for this activity.
  • The activity provides students with a global perspective of energy use as well as a comparison with their parents and grandparents when they were the student's age.
  • The online calculator is likely difficult for younger students.
  • The game and PowerPoint supports the lesson.
  • The layout is good.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The educator must register and log in to website to access the lesson plan and associated links. This is free and should not hinder the access or use of the activity.
  • All necessary materials are available on the website.
  • Activity requires little preparation.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-ESS3-4: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

MS-LS2.A2:In any ecosystem, organisms and populations with similar requirements for food, water, oxygen, or other resources may compete with each other for limited resources, access to which consequently constrains their growth and reproduction.

MS-ESS3.C2:Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise.

MS-ESS3.D1:Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Systems and System Models, Patterns, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C3.3: Proportional relationships (e.g., speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) among different types of quantities provide information about the magnitude of properties and processes.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P4.5:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including mean, median, mode, and variability) to analyze and characterize data, using digital tools when feasible.

MS-P6.4:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events.

MS-P8.3:Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS3-4: Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

HS-ESS3.C1:The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.

HS-ESS3.D1:Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts.

HS-LS2.A1:Ecosystems have carrying capacities, which are limits to the numbers of organisms and populations they can support. These limits result from such factors as the availability of living and nonliving resources and from such challenges such as predation, competition, and disease. Organisms would have the capacity to produce populations of great size were it not for the fact that environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension affects the abundance (number of individuals) of species in any given ecosystem.

HS-LS4.D1:Humans depend on the living world for the resources and other benefits provided by biodiversity. But human activity is also having adverse impacts on biodiversity through overpopulation, overexploitation, habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, and climate change. Thus sustaining biodiversity so that ecosystem functioning and productivity are maintained is essential to supporting and enhancing life on Earth. Sustaining biodiversity also aids humanity by preserving landscapes of recreational or inspirational value.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C5.3:Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P4.2:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

HS-P6.5:Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

HS-P7.4:Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence.

HS-P8.3:Gather, read, and evaluate scientific and/or technical information from multiple authoritative sources, assessing the evidence and usefulness of each source.

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