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Fueling Society

5, 6
Essential questions
Why do we extract fossil fuels and minerals from Earth’s crust when there are so many adverse consequences?
Why do we use nuclear energy when the risks are so high?
In what ways is hydroelectric power sustainable and unsustainable?

This module includes the following lessons:

Lesson 1: Eco-101: Dig, Pump, Turn: (Estimated time needed: 50 minutes)
This lesson begins with students learning about natural resources that humans either dig (such as coal) or pump (such oil or natural gas) from the Earth’s crust. Students discuss why these resources are so valuable to us and why we tolerate the many adverse side effects of extracting and using them. They then discuss how renewable energy sources are being used as alternatives in many areas around the world. Next, students simulate a mining experience by digging into a chocolate chip cookie. The experience leads to a rich discussion about safety, fines, rewards, and reclamation.

Lesson 2: Eco-Activity: The Power of an Atom: (Estimated time needed: Two 50-minute class periods)
In this lesson, students learn that nuclear energy is powerful enough to send a robot on a scientific mission millions of miles away and to supply large amounts of electricity on Earth with minimal impacts on natural resources. They also learn that harnessing the power of the atom has consequences—some very serious and long-term consequences. Rather than telling students what to think about the issue, the lesson encourages students to research the topic and then debate their peers. The lesson concludes with a discussion designed to help students synthesize their thoughts on the topic.

Lesson 3: Eco-Activity: Harnessing Hydropower: (Estimated time needed: Two 50-minute class periods)
In this lesson, students explore the ways in which humans use hydropower to fuel society. First, they learn how hydropower is harnessed to generate electricity, and then they build a hydropaddle to simulate a turbine. Next, they examine the pros and cons of hydropower by choosing an issue, conducting an investigative analysis to discover a story of real-life impact, and sharing that story with the class. Students also reflect upon why facts alone are often not enough to communicate the importance of sustainability issues; asking questions and doing research can often lead to surprising changes in perspective and new understandings.

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