Teaching Fossil Fuels with a Cool Car Design Project

Teaching fossil fuels? Try this project! Your students will love designing eco-friendly vehicles.

Teaching Fossil Fuels with a Car Design Project Cover

Ms. Sneed Teaches Fossil Fuels

Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, flipped through the science book. “Okay,” she said to her teaching partner, “we’ve taught fossil layers. Now it’s time to move onto fossil fuels.”

She sighed. “One page. Just one page. That’s how much they allocate to fossil fuels. We need more earth science activities. Reading one page just doesn’t do it.”

“Okay. Let’s look for something.” Mr. Frank opened his laptop and clicked around.

Suddenly, he stopped and smiled. “Hey, our kids would love to design a green vehicle! Look at this.” He moved his laptop so Ms. Sneed could look on.

Are Fossil Fuels Renewable or Nonrenewable Resources?

“As you can see,” Mr. Frank continued. “This fossil fuels resource doesn’t just jump into the green vehicle activity. Instead, instruction scaffolds.

“On the first day, kids read the two paragraphs at the top of this worksheet to learn about natural resources.”

“I’d rather read that together,” Ms. Sneed commented. “That way, we can discuss it thoroughly.”

Mr. Frank nodded. “Then our students will classify each of these resources as renewable or nonrenewable. The list includes several fossil fuels.”

“Great background information for the project,” Ms. Sneed remarked. “In addition, they need to know about natural resources for both social studies and science. Wow, this offers a great interdisciplinary approach.”

This worksheet provides two paragraphs to teach fourth grade students about renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. Then they classify ten resources.
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Learning About Fossil Fuels

Mr. Frank scrolled to the next set of student sheets. “Instruction continues with three background information sheets. First, kids learn how fossil fuels were formed.”

“I like the way these images support the text on coal, oil, and natural gas,” Ms. Sneed said.

Again, Mr. Frank nodded. “Second,” he continued, “they learn about the greenhouse effect. Hmm, interesting. This article explains that the greenhouse effect is natural. If you look at this last point, you begin to understand that increased levels of carbon dioxide cause an imbalance.

“Third, kids begin to understand the connection between coal, power plants, and electricity.”

“Like you said,” Ms. Sneed remarked, “this fossil fuels resource scaffolds. Initially, kids learn about renewable and nonrenewable resources. Then they take a look at how coal, oil, and natural gas are formed. In addition, they study the greenhouse effect and how electricity is generated.”

“After all of that,” Mr. Frank added, “they complete an exit ticket. Great assessment of their background information!”

Three pages provide background information for teaching fossil fuels: how they are formed, the greenhouse effect, and how electricity is generated.

Researching Vehicles and Their Use of Fossil Fuels

The two teachers scrolled to the next section. “Now kids get to the fun stuff,” Mr. Frank said. “They research five types of vehicles: gasoline, all-electric (EV), hybrid electric (HEV), fuel cell electric (FCEV), and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV). For each, they find how it works, its range, and its environmental impact. Interesting. This will force them to consider the fossil fuels each uses.”

“Additionally,” Ms. Sneed said, “I’d like them to dig deeper into electricity.” She pulled up a website on her computer. “This tells how electricity is generated in each state. It will help them understand that using electric vehicles is better in some states than others.”

“I love it!” Mr. Frank exclaimed. “This series of activities allow us to maximize teaching and make every moment count. And you know that I’m all about double duty teaching. In addition to learning about natural resources and fossil fuels, kids conduct research and use higher order thinking skills.”

Five worksheets ask kids to find out how a certain type of vehicle works, its range, and its environmental impact. Vehicles include gasoline, hybrid electric, all-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, and fuel cell electric.

Comparing Vehicles and Designing Your Own

Now Mr. Frank scrolled to the culminating activities. “Once kids finish their research, they use this table to summarize their findings. Hopefully, it will clearly show the most eco-friendly vehicle.”

“Regardless,” Ms. Sneed added, “they must each select one type for their own design. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!”

“I wish they had this fossil fuels activity when I was in school.” A big grin spread across Mr. Frank’s face. “The kids are going to love it!”

After teaching fossil fuels, students use a table to compare and contrast vehicle types. Then they design a green vehicle of their own

Enjoy Teaching Environmental Sciences

Mrs. Sneed smiled. “Yes, we have found some fun activities for teaching fossil fuels. Next year,” she said, “they’ll continue exploring how people use science ideas to protect Earth’s resources with a wastewater management activity.”

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