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Carbon Footprint

Activities for Conceptualizing Climate and Climate Change, Perdue University

Students investigate how much greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide and methane) their family releases into the atmosphere each year and relate it to climate change. To address this, students use the Environmental Protection Agency Personal Emissions Calculator to estimate their family's greenhouse gas emissions and to think about how their family could reduce those emissions.

Activity takes about two 45-minute class periods. Computer access is necessary for part of the lesson.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 5 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPg
Greenhouse effect
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2c

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
One way to manage energy resources is through conservation.
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6.2 Conserving energy.
Behavior and design affect the amount of energy used by human society.
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6.6 Behavior and design.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
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6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
4. Personal and Civic Responsibility:D) Accepting personal responsibility
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D) Accepting personal responsibility.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.3 Humans and Their Societies:A) Individuals and groups
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A) Individuals and groups.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.3 Humans and Their Societies:C) Political and economic systems
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C) Political and economic systems.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
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A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
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D) Technology.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.
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
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C) Identifying and evaluation alternative solutions and courses of 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

  • Educators might want to provide students with a parent letter explaining the lesson, since parents have to help students with determining the amount of electricity and water usage in their home.
  • The students also complete the class carbon footprint. This may address equity issues - educator might have to adjust the discussion accordingly.

About the Science

  • Students use the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) carbon calculator to calculate their family's green house gas emissions. This calculator is credible and constantly updated.
  • The greenhouse gas calculator, like many that exist, is too much like a black box and educator should stress these uncertainties and show students some exemplary calculations.
  • In this activity, students use simple statistics to describe their results.This guides students to understand statistical concepts like mean, median, and mode.
  • Comment from expert scientist: The activity lists nitrous oxide as a greenhouse gas which it is but then it gives the chemical formula as NOx when nitrous oxide is N2O. NOx nitrogen oxides are an important component of urban pollution but do not themselves really contribute to the greenhouse effect. Nitrous oxide also seems to not belong in this activity since the primary emissions of N2O are from industrial farming and fertilizer, which is not really controlled on an individual level and is not accounted for in the activity as far as I can tell. In addition, nitrous oxide is only a single compound, and it shouldn't be used in the plural form.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students use class data to plot and analyze a graph of greenhouse gas emissions averaged for the entire class.
  • The activity is nicely organized and has an attractive format that will engage students.
  • The students develop strategies for reducing their family carbon footprint.
  • All necessary data sheets are included in the lesson for student use.
  • The worksheet exercise is very long.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The activity is robust and very well done.
  • Educator must open separate windows for teacher guide activity and PowerPoint slides at http://www.iclimate.org/ccc/.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

This activity is one of four climate modules created by Purdue University This activity is the fourth of five activities from the CURRENT CLIMATE MAPS module. The conceptual framework concept map and Project Overview, as well as the educators background PowerPoint presentation for the activity and data sheets, are located at: http://www.iclimate.org/ccc/.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-ESS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

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: 1

Energy and Matter

MS-C5.3:Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

Science and Engineering Practices: 5

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

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-P6.3:Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

MS-P7.5:Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

MS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.

MS-P1.4:Ask questions to clarify and/or refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.

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: 2

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

HS-ESS3.C2:Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Patterns, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.

HS-C3.4:Using the concept of orders of magnitude allows one to understand how a model at one scale relates to a model at another scale.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

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.

HS-C7.4:Systems can be designed for greater or lesser stability.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.4:ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

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-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

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

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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