This video segment from the Earth Operators Manual summarizes how fossil fuels are made, provides a comparison of how long it takes to store energy in coal, oil and natural gas, and discusses how fast we're using them.
Video length 2:25 min. Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»
Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4
MS-ESS3.A1: Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, fresh water, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes.
MS-LS1.C1: Plants, algae (including phytoplankton), and many microorganisms use the energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen. These sugars can be used immediately or stored for growth or later use.
MS-PS1.B3: Some chemical reactions release energy, others store energy.
MS-PS3.A4: The term “heat” as used in everyday language refers both to thermal energy (the motion of atoms or molecules within a substance) and the transfer of that thermal energy from one object to another. In science, heat is used only for this second meaning; it refers to the energy transferred due to the temperature difference between two objects.
Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4
HS-ESS3.A2: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors.
HS-LS1.C1: The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus released oxygen.
HS-PS3.A2: At the macroscopic scale, energy manifests itself in multiple ways, such as in motion, sound, light, and thermal energy.
HS-PS3.D1: Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.
This Video builds on the following concepts of Energy Literacy.
Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.
Notes From Our Reviewers
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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy |
- A stimulating introduction for deeper exploration into the carbon cycle.
About the Science
- Accurate and easy-to-follow story of fossil fuel formation, from photosynthesis to geologic transformation into coal, oil, and natural gas. Narrated by geologist, Dr. Richard Alley.
- Comments from expert scientist:
Scientific strengths: It is a very basic and short explanation, in non-technical terms, of how fossil fuels were formed, and why burning them adds, unavoidably, CO2 to the atmosphere.
Suggestions: The short film clip does not provide a path for further research, but that can not really be crammed into 2.5 minutes. One can use other resources for that.
About the Pedagogy
- A good overview of fossil fuel formation that can help set the stage for more detailed activities.
Entered the Collection: February 2019 Last Reviewed: December 2016
Technical Details/Ease of Use
- Well-produced, professional segment from an hour-long PBS program.