Electricity and the Environment – Energy, Fuels, Natural Resources

Is electricity bad for the environment? To find out, ask students to explore different ways electricity is generated. Then have them write a paragraph explaining whether renewable or nonrenewable resources should be used.

Ms. Sneed’s Students Explore Electricity and the Environment

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, displayed the next earth science standard, NGSS 4-ESS3-1:

Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

“As you all remember,” she said, “our class conducted a bunch of electricity activities last month. Next, we’ll see how physical and earth science tie together. This week, we’ll tackle this standard.” She pointed to the display.

“First, each member of your group will learn about a different resource used to generate electricity. Then, you’ll share the information.”

A group of students at the side of the room began to whisper excitedly, wondering what topic each of them would choose.

“After that,” Ms. Sneed continued, “you’ll determine whether renewable or nonrenewable resources should be used to generate electricity. Finally, you’ll write an opinion paragraph to share your view with others. That way, we can integrate science and ELA.”

Providing Background Information

“Before we talk about topics,” Ms. Sneed said, “you need some background information.”

Ms. Sneed displayed a page on fossil fuels. “As you can see, coal, oil, and natural gas were created when organisms died millions of years ago. Slow changes to Earth’s surface changed them into fossil fuels.” Using images and words, she explained basic information about these fuels.

Next, she displayed a page on the greenhouse effect. “This phenomenon,” she explained, “keeps the atmosphere of Earth warm. That’s a good thing. But too much carbon dioxide makes it too warm.”

Finally, Ms. Sneed extended students’ understanding of electricity. She reviewed atoms and current electricity. Then she launched into the specifics of how electricity is generated and sent out to buildings.

Before students conduct research, provide some background information on fossil fuels, the greenhouse effect, and electricity.
Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

When she finished, Ms. Sneed sighed. “That’s a lot to digest. Therefore, we won’t start researching until tomorrow,” she said.

The class groaned.

Selecting Groups and Topics

“Oh okay. I know you’re anxious to find out more. For this project, you’ll work in groups of seven.” Everyone cheered. They loved group work.

“However,” their teacher continued, “you’ll conduct research independently. Then you’ll report back to your group.”

“Is this one of those puzzle projects?” one student asked.

“Close, it’s jigsaw, a form of collaborative learning. Each of you will learn about one way to generate electricity. Then you’ll teach the others about it.”

Ms. Sneed assigned the groups. Next, she gave each group seven information sheets: coal, geothermal, hydropower, nuclear, solar, and wind. “Each group member can select one passage on electricity generation. Or, if it’s easier for you, put them upside-down in the middle of the table and let each person randomly select one.”

After the organized chaos had died down, Ms. Sneed gave them an assignment. “Tonight, read your passage. That way you’ll be ready to take notes and share tomorrow. If you’d like to know more, Visual Capitalist has a great infographic on the five types of renewable resources. I sent a link to you.”

For this jigsaw project, each student reads a passage on one way to generate electricity.

Researching Electricity and the Environment

The next day, Ms. Sneed distributed a page for gathering information. “Read your selection again. As you read, take notes on this sheet. As you work, consider how communities might use science ideas to protect resources.”

When all students had finished their notes, Ms. Sneed asked them to share with their groups. “Tomorrow,” she said, “you’ll use all of this information to write about renewable and nonrenewable resources.”

Writing About Electricity and the Environment

Renewable or Nonrenewable?

As promised, the next day, Ms. Sneed distributed a page entitled “Renewable or Nonrenewable?”

After learning about ways electricity is generated, students plan and write an argumentative paragraph explaining whether renewable or nonrenewable resources is better for the environment.

“On this sheet,” she said, “you’ll mark each form of energy as renewable or nonrenewable. If you’ve forgotten anything about one, ask your teammates and jot down notes.”

Electricity Generation in Each State

As they finished up, she added one more element to their research. “I’ve shared a link with information about resources used to generate electricity in each state. On the table, you’ll see how our state fares. This will set the stage for your writing.”

Quickly, the kids opened their devices and clicked over to the site.

“Why does our state use so much coal?” one student asked another.

“Yeah, and with all the wind farms we have nearby, I thought more would be generated by wind.”

Ms. Sneed smiled. This activity was really making them think.

Writing About Electricity and the Environment

She picked up another paper and distributed it. “Now, on the this sheet, you will plan an argumentative paragraph. In it, you will tell which should be used to generate electricity – renewable or nonrenewable resources. If you’d like, you can write it in letter form – to our governor.”

“Can we actually mail them to her?” one student asked.

“Of course.”

That did it. A cheer went up from the crowd.

Looking for more environmental science activities? Let your kids try their hand at designing energy-efficient vehicles.

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