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Fueling the Future: Evaluating the sustainability of biofuels

Secondary

Description

 In this activity, students will assess the sustainability of different biofuels. Students will be asked to evaluate how the life cycle (production, transport, and use) of each biofuel feedstock impacts the economy, the environment, and society. Students will present their research findings to the class, identify what they consider to be the features of the ideal biofuel, and discuss which of the fuels considered meet these requirements.

Finally, students will learn about bioelectricity and how converting biomass to electricity may be the more efficient way to fuel cars in the 21st century.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The lesson plans offers an opportunity for students to strengthen those skills associated with research and presentation and include

  • assessing costs/benefits
  • comparing and contrasting
  • presenting and defending a particular perspective

Strengths

The lesson plan enjoys the following strengths

  • the issue addressed - the role of and merits of various biofuels - is both relevant and critical given the challenges presented by climate change
  • the case study approach employed by the lesson along with the supporting questions and resources is effective in engaging student interest and understanding    

Recommendation of how and where to use it

The resource may help students realize outcomes associated with

  • Earth/Environmental Science - human impact on the lithosphere
  • Science (Biology and Chemistry) - biotechnology, organic chemistry, carbon emissions
  • Social Studies/ Geography - land use, human interaction with the environment, sustainable development, energy security

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Themes Addressed

  • Energy (1)

    • Alternative Energy
  • Food & Agriculture (1)

    • Biotechnology
  • Science and Technology (1)

    • Appropriate Technology

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

Students are charged with the responsibility of determining the relative merits of various biofuels, the required features of the ideal biofuel, and which, if any of the fuels considered meet the standards decided upon. Specific and open questions are provided to guide student research and discussion but these are not limiting and are not designed to shape student findings and conclusions.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Very Good

In weighing the relative merits of selected biofuels, students are asked to consider the sustainability of the fuel in terms of its positive or negative impact on the environment, the economy and society. The resource provides a series of questions to direct student research in each of these areas and refers them to current news articles that offer opinions and insights on the future of biofuels.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

In requiring students to consider and debate the environmental, economic and social impact of the biofuel each group investigates, the resource better guarantees students will recognize the complexity of the issue. The questions provided to help student assessment of each of the biofuels and the news articles and websites referenced for further student research will further ensure that students recognize there is a meaningful debate around the use of biofuels to meet our energy needs.

Engaging guest speakers, as the resource suggests, adds another layer to the resources efforts to  introduce multiple perspectives.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

The focus of the lesson plan is on increasing student understanding of the potential and merits of a variety biofuels so that they may participate as informed citizens in the debate over the future role of biofuels in meeting our energy needs. The next step - acting on their increased awareness - is limited in the lesson plan to the suggestion that students evaluate the biofuels in their local community.

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Good

In making their decision as to which of the biofuels best meets the requirements of sustainable development, students must consider what weight they give to the environmental, economic, and social consequences attached to each of the biofuels studied. Such a process obliges students to consider a host of questions, the answers to which are value laden.

Students efforts to articulate their position on the role of biofuels and respond to that of other students is, in part, an exercise in values clarification.

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered
Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Satisfactory

Implicit in the resource is concern for the planet and its people and one's responsibility thereto.

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Good

The biofuel debate has local, national and global relevance. The decisions made as to the use of biofuels will have impact on the food we eat, the price we pay for that food food, our energy consumption and the climate both locally and globally. 

The lesson plan draws on local "authorities"(representatives of the biofuel industry, local farmers, and local government officials) to help students better understand the parameters and the implications of the biofuel debate.

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Good

The lesson plan focuses on the question of how best to meet our future energy needs but should be viewed within the contexts of the environmental, economic, and social  implications of our past and current energy practices.

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Very Good

Fueling the Future is designed to have students evaluate the merits of a variety of biofuels and their potential role in meeting our future energy needs. Questions are provided that help direct student research but the assessment of the costs/ benefits of each of the biofuels studied is the students responsibility. The questions provided are both open-ended and specific and not limiting.

Following their investigation, students are asked to present their findings to the class and to engage in an in-class discussion as to the properties of an ideal biofuel and which of those studied appear to be the most sustainable and to have the greatest promise to power our future energy needs.

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Very Good

Students are asked to consider the merits of various biofuels within the context of sustainable development. This requires that they assess the environmental, economic, and social impacts of each of the biofuels. This system thinking approach serves to blur the lines between subject disciplines.

The assessment of each of the biofuels must include attention to the chemistry of the biofuel (Science), the potential of the biofuel to reduce carbon emissions and meet the challenges of climate change (Environmental Science), the extent to which land should be used to produce energy or food (Geography), the market for biofuels and their by-products (Economics), the impact of biofuel production on communities (Social Studies), and the role of government in regulating biofuel production (Political Science).   

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

The lesson plan sets the framework for student investigation of the role of biofuels and provides the necessary resources to help students carry out their assessment, The conclusions reached and the recommendations advocated are the students' responsibility. 

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Satisfactory

The lesson plan makes suggestions for modification and alternative assessment but these are rather limited and include mixed -ability grouping, individual research and writing assignments.

The variety of tasks involved in having students investigate the issue and report on their findings allow teachers to devise their own strategies for differential instruction.

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Satisfactory

The issue and the question posed for student investigation are both real and critical, given the challenges of climate change. The format of the lesson plan is to direct student investigation by research-focused assignments based on a variety of news articles and websites. This is supplemented by arranging class presentations from those in the biofuel industry, local farmers, and government officials.  

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Good

Students work in pairs or small groups to investigate and report on their assessment of selected biofuels; each group being assigned a particular biofuel.

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Good

Teachers have an opportunity to assess student understanding of the benefits and costs associated with the biofuels studied in each of the following situations;

  • student presentation on the source of, market for and current debate on the benefits of or challenges presented by the biofuel they are assigned for study
  • student presentation on the sustainability of the selected biofuel (Power point presentation, poster, comparison charts)
  • student writing assignments on the role of government in regulating biofuel production and distribution and the economic impact of biofuels 
Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Good

The lesson plan provides a framework for students to investigate, evaluate, report on and debate the merits of current biofuels. The teacher's role is to facilitate the process.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Very Good

The goal of the lesson plan is to have students evaluate the role of biofuels in meeting our current and future energy needs. The means adopted is to investigate a number of case studies focusing on selected biofuels. The material provided for the student investigation includes a number of news articles, websites, and resource people.  

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

The lesson plan outlines a framework for students to become informed participants in the debate over the role of biofuels in our life. The extent that it succeeds depends upon the student's diligence in doing the necessary research and sharing their findings with classmates. 

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.