January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Natural Resources/Energy Unit for High School

Posted: Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

by Heather Marshall

I feel that all students should be required to take an earth sciences course as a high school graduation requirement. They all need the basic understanding of the planet on which they live. It is even more important for all students to learn about energy. As we use our natural resources, we need to find new sources of energy, and ways to preserve and wisely use  the resources that remain. The following energy unit covers both of these issues.  My unit plan resources (PowerPoint presentations and labs) are available on my classroom website: https://sites.google.com/site/cpgeology/ under “Unit Folders”, and then “Energy and Climate”. The PowerPoint presentations serve as the outlines, not the full lectures.  Viewing the presentations will give you an overview of the lectures and the hands-on lab experiments conducted as a part of the energy unit.  This website is used as a tool in my classroom for students when they are absent or otherwise miss class.

The energy unit is taught after the basics of geology.  That way the students have the foundational knowledge of rocks, minerals, plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, weathering and erosion, and relative and absolute dating methods as well as map reading skills (topographic, geological, and well logs).  This unit we will refer back to the carbon cycle specifically, therefore, students should have already covered biogeochemical cycles. This unit is designed be be taught on a traditional schedule, where the students meet daily for 181 days, for 55 minute classes. On average three of the five weekdays will be spent in lab experiments, and two of five on notes.  The energy unit is expected to take two and a half weeks to complete.

The California state standards covered by the energy unit include:

Energy in the Earth System

4.  Climate is the long-term average of a region’s weather and depends on many factors. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a.  Students know weather (in the short run) and climate (in the long run) involve the transfer of energy into and out of the atmosphere.
b.  Students know the effects on climate of latitude, elevation, topography, and proximity to large bodies of water and cold or warm ocean currents.
c.  Students know how Earth’s climate has changed over time, corresponding to changes in Earth’s geography, atmospheric composition, and other factors, such as solar radiation and plate movement.
d.  Students know how computer models are used to predict the effects of the increase in greenhouse gases on climate for the planet as a whole and for specific regions.

Biogeochemical Cycles

7.  Each element on Earth moves among reservoirs, which exist in the solid earth, in oceans, in the atmosphere, and within and among organisms as part of biogeochemical cycles. As a basis for understanding this concept:

a.  Students know the carbon cycle of photosynthesis and respiration and the nitrogen cycle.
b.  Students know the global carbon cycle: the different physical and chemical forms of carbon in the atmosphere, oceans, biomass, fossil fuels, and the movement of carbon among these reservoirs.
c.  Students know the movement of matter among reservoirs is driven by Earth’s internal and external sources of energy.
d.  Students know the relative residence times and flow characteristics of carbon in and out of its different reservoirs.

I have restated these goals into the following for students to use:

Know about energy resources—renewable and non renewable—as they pertain to long term climate fluctuations. Differentiate between common alternative energies for cars and for home/industry use and identify the pros and cons of each. Differentiate between all forms of energy and how they affect climate fluctuations.

The Energy Unit (about 2.5 weeks)

  • What Do You Think? PowerPoint presentation: students answer questions on the upcoming unit based on what they know before the unit, opinions, and preconceptions. This is used as a pre-assessment.
  • Fossil Fuel Notes: these notes follow with descriptions of how oil, gas, and coal are formed,  some uses for petroleum, and some statistics on remaining reservoirs.
  • Fuel Energy Lab: this lab looks at the amount of energy available by fuel type by mass and volume.  This lab helps students to understand the differences in fuel types.
  • Modeling Oil Reserves Lab: this lab is a model for exploration geology.  It models the processes petroleum geologists use to find oil reserves underground.
  • Products Made from Petroleum Computer Research Lab: this lab asks students to do computer research on different products made from petroleum.  The students then compare the production  of some objects to their standard of living.
  • Global Warming Notes: these notes describe in more detail what is happening in terms of global warming, the causative elements, and how those elements are increasing in our atmosphere.  The notes also address the question: “What can we do about it?”
  • Earth Warming Lab: this lab looks at the environmental and economic effects of the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and what we can do about it.
  • Alternative Energy Notes: these notes look at the currently available alternative energy resources that power our homes and businesses. They address some of the pros and cons of using these energies instead of fossil fuels.
  • Alternative Fuel Notes: these notes look at the currently available alternative fuel resources that power our automobiles.  They address the pros and cons of using these energies instead of fossil fuels.
  • Assessment: a test is given at the end of the energy portion of the unit. NOTE: The test requires updating and revision. (I will also be adding updates and revisions to the PowerPoint lectures as well, as we get closer to teaching the unit.  I try to add current issues into the notes.)

After the energy work, we go into the climate portion where we discuss climates of the world, climate factors (things that affect local climate), and then global climate change issues.  This portion is currently under revision and expansion, a full description will be available in a future issue of California Classroom Science.

Heather Marshall teaches CP geology at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill and is CSTA’s high school director.

Written by Heather Wygant

Heather Wygant

Heather Wygant teaches CP geology at Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill, CA and is a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. Thank you for all these resources Heather! I definitely agree with you about students having at least a basic understanding of the Earth Sciences and our planet. I have heard lately that schools are trying to phase out Earth Science because it’s not a college tracked course. What are your experiences and thoughts?

    Your mentoree,

    Liz Mitchell

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