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Your Family’s 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
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2c

Energy Literacy

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7.3 Environmental quality.
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6.2 Conserving energy.
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6.6 Behavior and design.
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6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.
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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 greenhouse 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

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/.
  • A newer carbon calculator with carbon offset project suggestions can be found from the Carbon Footprint Management Company based in London: https://www.co2nsensus.com/carbon-footprint-calculator-co2nnector

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

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