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How Much Energy is on My Plate?

Lane Seeley - Seattle Pacific University, Karin Kirk - SERC, CLEAN Community Collection

This activity leads students through a sequence of learning steps that highlight the embedded energy that is necessary to produce various types of food. Students start by thinking through the components of a basic meal and are later asked to review the necessary energy to produce different types of protein.

The activity takes about one to two class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • This activity done with various degrees of scaffolding. Students can either follow the step-by-step activity or activity can be left open-ended for students to explore a range of answers.
  • Another extension to this activity would be a discussion about energy use and climate change in different societies with different eating habits.
  • Students with limited quantitative skills or Excel knowledge could be paired with experienced students.

About the Science

  • Students explore the embedded energy in various types of foods.
  • Students calculate the amount of energy per gram of protein in common foods to find the most efficient meal.
  • The calculation of embedded energy is provided for the students.
  • A lot of good background and reference material is provided with the activity.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This is a good basic resource to allow a general audience to think critically about food sources and the energy need to produce the foods. Many of the references do not appear to have good scientific rigor. Several are found on blogs.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity provides students with a jumping-off point to do various calculations regarding the energy required to produce various foods.
  • This is a very engaging activity with multiple good extension suggestions and lots of hooks for interesting discussions personal energy use and the relevance of energy in our lives.
  • This activity develops students' reflective thinking skills and critical thinking via the use of concept maps.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity does not include student handouts.
  • The activity does include sample calculations.
  • The video that is optionally suggested as part of the activity is only available at cost.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-LS2-4: Use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

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.C3:As matter and energy flow through different organizational levels of living systems, chemical elements are recombined in different ways to form different products.

HS-PS3.B2:Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

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

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-C3.5: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-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using 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.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, 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-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-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

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-P7.5:Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.2:Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.

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