Environmental Literacy and Sustainability

Provide resources to integrate environmental literacy and sustainability standards into existing curricula and coursework.
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All resources in Environmental Literacy and Sustainability

Does Media Matter? Infiltration Rates and Storage Capacities

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Students gain a basic understanding of the properties of media soil, sand, compost, gravel and how these materials affect the movement of water (infiltration/percolation) into and below the surface of the ground. They learn about permeability, porosity, particle size, surface area, capillary action, storage capacity and field capacity, and how the characteristics of the materials that compose the media layer ultimately affect the recharging of groundwater tables. They test each type of material, determining storage capacity, field capacity and infiltration rates, seeing the effect of media size on infiltration rate and storage. Then teams apply the testing results to the design their own material mixes that best meet the design requirements. To conclude, they talk about how engineers apply what students learned in the activity about the infiltration rates of different soil materials to the design of stormwater management systems.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Authors: Ryan Locicero, Maya Trotz, Krysta Porteus, Jennifer Butler, William Zeman, Brigith Soto, Water Awareness Research and Education (WARE) Research Experience for Teachers (RET),

Environment

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Through 10 lessons and more than 20 hands-on activities, students are introduced to the concept of an environment and the many interactions within it. As they learn about natural and human-made environments, as well as renewable and non-renewable natural resources, they see how people use our planet's natural resources and the many resulting environmental issues that exist in our world today. Topics include: solid waste disposal; the concepts of reduce, reuse, recycle and compost; the causes and effects of water pollution and the importance of water treatment and clean-up methods; air pollution and air quality and the many engineering technologies to prevent it and clean it up; land use and community planning, seeing how decisions made by people have a long-term impact on our natural world; and renewable energy sources, seeing how solar, water and wind energy can be transformed into electricity. In the hands-on activities, students: create a yarn "web" to identify environmental interactions, which they tally and graph; use Moebius strips (loops of paper with a half twist) to demonstrate the environmental interconnectedness and explore natural cycles (water, oxygen/carbon dioxide, carbon, nitrogen); conduct an environmental issue survey to gather and graph data and use an opinion spectrum; brainstorm ways that they use and waste natural resources; use cookies to simulate the distribution of nonrenewable resources; collect, categorize, weigh and analyze classroom solid waste for a week; build and observe a model landfill; evaluate alternative product packaging; use models to investigate the process and consequences of water contamination; design and build water filters; observe and discuss a balloon model of an electrostatic precipitator; build particulate matter collectors; observe and discuss a model of a wet scrubber; dig into the newspaper's daily air quality index; act as community planning engineers to determine optimal structure placement in a community; investigate the thermal storage properties of sand, salt, water and paper to evaluate their suitability as passive solar thermal mass; design and create models for new waterwheels within time and material constraints; build model anemometers; and create publications to communicate what they have learned.

Material Type: Full Course

Authors: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program,, See individual lessons and activities.

Absorption by Atmospheric Gases of Incoming and Outgoing Radiation

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In this activity, students are split into groups to examine a specific band of the electromagnetic spectrum and the absorption spectra of seven atmospheric gases in that wavelength range. Using a jigsaw approach, the students regroup to have an expert on each band to examine the full spectrum, identify and rank greenhouse gases, and estimate Earth's temperature from satellite data.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Author: Sara Harris

Air: Fuel for Thought

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This lesson plan engages students in a real-life exploration of climate change as it is affected by greenhouse emissions from vehicles. The aim of this activity is for students to realize the impact of vehicle use in their family and to give students the opportunity to brainstorm viable alternatives to this use.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Animation About the Greenhouse Effect

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This is a basic animation/simulation with background information about the greenhouse effect by DAMOCLES. The animation has several layers to it that allow users to drill into more detail about the natural greenhouse effect and different aspects of it, including volcanic aerosols and human impacts from burning fossil fuels.

Material Type: Simulation

Antarctica Ice

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This short video examines the recent melting ice shelves in the Antarctica Peninsula; the potential collapse of West Antarctic ice shelf; and how global sea levels, coastal cities, and beaches would be affected.

Material Type: Lecture

Arctic Climate Perspectives

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This video along with a background essay focuses on impacts of climate change on the lives of Native Alaskans around Barrow, Alaska. Specific changes include the timing of the changes in the formation and breakout of sea ice and the impacts on subsistence living.

Material Type: Lecture

As the Rotor Turns: Wind Power and You

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In this hands-on engineering activity, students will build a tabletop wind turbine. Students get acquainted with the basics of wind energy and power production by fabricating and testing various blade designs for table-top windmills constructed from one-inch PVC pipe and balsa wood (or recycled materials). The activity includes lots of good media and Web resources supporting the science content.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Automotive Emissions and the Greenhouse Effect

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This is a laboratory activity in which students will compare the amount of carbon dioxide in four different sources of gas and determine the carbon dioxide contribution from automobiles. They test ambient air, human exhalation, automobile exhaust, and nearly pure carbon dioxide from a vinegar/baking soda mixture.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Bering Sea Expedition

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In this investigation learners research the effects of melting sea ice in the Bering Sea Ecosystem. They create research proposals to earn a place on the scientific research vessel Healy and present their findings and proposals to a Research Board committee.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

The Big Energy Gamble

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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.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Author: Jeff Lockwood

Biomass - Investigating Gases

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In this lab activity students generate their own biomass gases by heating wood pellets or wood splints in a test tube. They collect the resulting gases and use the gas to roast a marshmallow. Students also evaluate which biomass fuel is the best by their own criteria or by examining the volume of gas produced by each type of fuel.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Authors: Eric Eric Benson, Melissa Highfill, US Department of Energy - Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy - Energy Education and Workforce Development

Blooming Thermometers

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In this lesson, students develop an understanding of the relationship between natural phenomena, weather, and climate change: the study known as phenology. In addition, they learn how cultural events are tied to the timing of seasonal events. Students brainstorm annual natural phenomena that are tied to seasonal weather changes. Next, they receive information regarding the Japanese springtime festival of Hanami, celebrating the appearance of cherry blossoms. Students plot and interpret average bloom date data from over the past 1100 years.

Material Type: Activity/Lab

Author: Lisa Gardiner

Byrd Polar Research Center Climate Model Simulation

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This set of animations and interactive simulations from the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University helps students develop an understanding of models used to understand the Earth System. Students consider the types of data that need to be included in a climate model, looking at inputs and outputs as well as variables, such as land surface, and how to measure changes of different parts of Earth's surface over time.

Material Type: Simulation

C-Learn: the International Climate Change Simulation

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C-Learn is a simplified version of the C-ROADS simulator. Its primary purpose is to help users understand the long-term climate effects (CO2 concentrations, global temperature, sea level rise) of various customized actions to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions, reduce deforestation, and grow more trees. Students can ask multiple, customized what-if questions and understand why the system reacts as it does.

Material Type: Simulation

Capturing Carbon

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This PBS video shows how Klaus Lackner, a geophysicist at Columbia University, is trying to tackle the problem of rising atmospheric CO2 levels by using an idea inspired by his daughter's 8th-grade science fair project.

Material Type: Lecture