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The Big Energy Gamble
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/activities/3519_energy.html

Jeff Lockwood, NOVA Teachers

Students conduct an energy audit to determine how much carbon dioxide their family is releasing into the atmosphere and then make recommendations for minimizing their family's carbon footprint. Students are specifically asked to understand the units of power and energy to determine the cost of running various household appliances. Finding the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for different types of energy and determining ways of reducing carbon dioxide output is the outcome of the lesson.

Activity takes 2-3 class periods. Technology to show a video is necessary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

A combination of strategies is needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The most immediate strategy is conservation of oil, gas, and coal, which we rely on as fuels for most of our transportation, heating, cooling, agriculture, and electricity. Short-term strategies involve switching from carbon-intensive to renewable energy sources, which also requires building new infrastructure for alternative energy sources. Long-term strategies involve innovative research and a fundamental change in the way humans use energy.
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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ans can take actions to reduce climate change and its impacts.
About Teaching Principle H
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Energy Literacy

Many different units are used to quantify energy.
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1.7 Units of energy.
Energy is a physical quantity that follows precise natural laws.
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Energy is a physical quantity.
One way to manage energy resources is through conservation.
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6.2 Conserving energy.
Amount of energy used can be calculated and monitored.
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6.8 Calculating and monitoring energy use.
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Human use of energy.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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: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.
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:A) Identifying and investigating issues
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A) Identifying and investigating issues.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.1 Skills for Analyzing and Investigating Environmental Issues:B) Sorting out the consequences of issues
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B) Sorting out the consequences of 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.
3. Skills for Understanding and Addressing Environmental Issues:3.2 Decision-Making and Citizenship Skills:B) Evaluating the need for citizen action
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B) Evaluating the need for citizen 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

  • Clarification - sentence in the foreword: "Some scientists believe that this increase is due to greenhouse gases produced through human activities” is incorrect, because "based on data, scientists have concluded that human activities have caused increases in greenhouse gases."
  • Since consumption is based on formulas with units of power and energy, the educator may have to help students with their calculations.
  • The educator is asked to set up a blog for student research purposes. Technical help to set that up in advance may be necessary.
  • The extension activity for a school audit is very highly recommended, including a guided discussion on what energy use means for the school would be really helpful.
  • To avoid issues of equity, use sample bill (rather than students' using their own homes).
  • The website link to Your Energy Audit is not correct but is currently http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/activities/pdf/3519_energy_01.pdf.

About the Science

  • Students understand the units of power and energy to determine the cost of running various household appliances.
  • Students determine ways of reducing carbon dioxide output and learn about the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for different types of energy.
  • Good background material is given for students and educators.
  • Good links for energy conservation are included with activity.
  • Great that carbon calculations are laid out - unlike carbon footprint calculators that are black boxes.
  • Comment from Expert Scientist: Each kWh should cost 10 cents not 12 cents to be consistent with the calculation: If a 200-Watt TV were left on 12 hours and each kWh costs 10 CENTS the cost to run the run the TV for all night for one month would be $7.20 (200 Watts for 12 Hours = 2.4 Kilowatt-Hours; 2.4 Kilowatt-Hours x $0.10 per Kilowatt-Hour = $0.24; $0.24 x 30 days = $7.20).

About the Pedagogy

  • Engaging data sheets are included.
  • Activity is very relevant to students' lives.
  • Students uncover answers for themselves in a project-based format.
  • A rubric is included for assessing student work.
  • Great links with fun game, and tips for saving energy are part of the lesson.
  • The activity integrates a good NOVA video clip (4m 33s) from The Big Energy Gamble.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Activity is well organized and laid out, better than black box online calculators.

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