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Fueling our Future (9-12)

Energy, Global Citizenship, Transportation
9, 10, 11, 12

Energy fuels our lives. It sustains our bodies, powers our industries, lights our cities, charges our cell phones, and moves our cars. Energy is interconnected with a range of global issues, from climate change to economic development and resource scarcity. Taking a close look at human energy use is a key part of working toward sustainable societies, economies, and environments.

The world’s energy needs are currently supplied primarily by fossil fuels. As we deplete the planet’s supply of these nonrenewable natural resources, we can expect competition for fossil fuels to increase and the cost of energy to rise, creating a cascade of impacts across global markets. This will touch us all, from the farmer whose machinery runs on fuel to the parent trying to put food on the table. At the same time, our dependence on fossil fuels has an environmental impact that grows larger every day. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that the burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide in the past century, leading to global climate change. In the 21st century, challenges posed by the rapid depletion of fossil fuels and the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions to climate change have already begun to spur the development of alternative energy sources and new technologies, impelling us to reexamine how we use energy.

Because energy consumption is deeply rooted in many local and global issues, the choices we make about energy can be part of sustainable solutions to critical challenges facing the world today. Such solutions can range from promoting home energy efficiency and conservation in order to lower household energy bills to using leapfrog technology to help developing communities access energy through the use of renewable resources. Fueling Our Future: Exploring Sustainable Energy Use presents an opportunity for you to engage your students in a relevant and authentic exploration of sustainable energy use. The unit asks students to reflect on how energy is connected to their own lives and to investigate paths toward energy systems that ensure access to energy for all people for generations to come.

Just as energy is an interdisciplinary topic, so is this unit. During the first week, students review basic energy science, calculate their daily electricity use, read nonfiction text to identify the pros and cons of renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy, and analyze statistics on energy seen around the world. During the second week, students embark on an in-depth study of transportation fuels. Using Facing the Future’s global sustainability framework, students explore the social, economic, and environmental impacts of petroleum based fuels and various biofuels. They do this by comparing the impacts of fuels throughout their supply chain, taking multiple perspectives, and proposing sustainable solutions. The lessons presented in this unit are student centered, support critical thinking, and foster collaboration among students.

In addition to nine fully planned lessons, this curricular unit includes readings, formative and summative assessments, extensions, and service learning ideas. Readings include vocabulary, youth profiles, career profiles, case studies, and questions that check for student understanding. While formative assessments vary throughout the unit, each lesson is guided by inquiry and critical thinking questions, and concludes with discussion questions. The unit also includes a pre and post-assessment designed to show student growth in content knowledge, ability to analyze complex energy issues, and personal attitude toward energy consumption and energy resources. The last three lessons of this curriculum are designed as a context specific, performance based assessment in which students conduct research on the timely real world issue of aviation biofuels. Students are authentically assessed on products such as posters, papers, and negotiations that help them to answer the performance based assessment’s driving question: What are the most sustainable biofuels that can be produced in the Pacific Northwest for aviation?

By engaging youth with authentic and relevant activities to explore energy issues, we foster the understanding and critical thinking skills needed to make thoughtful personal and collective decisions about energy. We hope that Fueling Our Future: Exploring Sustainable Energy Use helps prepare students to navigate the complex real world issues of energy resources and consumption and motivates students to participate in positive energy solutions for a sustainable world.

Fueling Our Future: Exploring Sustainable Energy Use begins with lessons that introduce students to foundational energy concepts. The lessons then begin to focus more specifically on topics like energy access and transportation fuels. The unit culminates with an aviation focused performance based assessment that is integrated into the final three lessons.

This unit was designed to contribute to the educational mission of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance to strengthen the overall scientific literacy of students with respect to biofuels. The pre and post-assessment can be administered before and after this unit to measure knowledge and personal attitudes about energy consumption.

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