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Carbon Calculator Activity

Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Working Group at Lehigh University

In this learning activity, students use a web-based carbon calculator to determine their carbon footprint on the basis of their personal and household habits and choices. Students identify which personal activities and household choices produce the most CO2 emissions, compare their carbon footprint to the U.S. and global averages, and identify lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their footprint.

Activity takes one to two 45-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching the Guiding Principle
Other materials addressing GPe
Humans can take action
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Humans can take action

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
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:2.4 Environment and Society:C) Resources
Other materials addressing:
C) Resources.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
Other materials addressing:
D) Technology.
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.

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

  • Begin the lesson with the video as suggested.
  • Teachers should go through the materials prior to implementing with students to anticipate students' questions and determine what what best to include.

About the Science

  • There is no indication of how the carbon calculator comes up with its results; thus students have no information about what they might do to decrease their carbon footprint.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Carbon calculators are good tools for engaging students in discussions about the impacts of personal habits on greenhouse gas emissions. The methodology for engaging the students in the calculator exercise is clear. The recommended student reading is from the IPCC AR4 (2007) which is the most current IPCC report.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity is particularly useful when teaching this for the first time. It is a very simple approach to the science with adequate support materials.
  • Video is engaging and provides a great visual demonstration of the mass of CO2 in the environment even though it is invisible to the eye.
  • Carbon calculator does effectively make users aware of how much carbon dioxide/carbon they are producing, but is not supported by documentation on how calculations were made.
  • As students answer questions, they are shown the impact of their household and transportation choices next to each question, so they get immediate feedback about what steps are important to reduce carbon emissions.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Technology easy to use and access.
  • Step-by-step instructions are clear and anticipate student questions. However, there is no information about how anything is calculated.
  • Clear and concise instructions.
  • Teachers need to register at no cost to gain access to the assessments.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

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: 6

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

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

MS-C2.3:Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability.

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.

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

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

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

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P5.4:Apply mathematical concepts and/or processes (e.g., ratio, rate, percent, basic operations, simple algebra) to scientific and engineering questions and problems.

MS-P6.5:Apply scientific reasoning to show why the data or evidence is adequate for the explanation or conclusion

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.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Stability and Change

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

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C6.1:Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem.

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

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

HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

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-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-P7.1:Compare and evaluate competing arguments or design solutions in light of currently accepted explanations, new evidence, limitations (e.g., trade-offs), constraints, and ethical issues

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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