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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.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
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.
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
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C) Resources.
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: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

  • 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.

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