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An inquiry into sharing the planet: embodied energy awesomeness

You may think that when I’m not posting here regularly, it is because I’ve run out of cool new technology to share…or maybe I’m just being lazy…or tired of blogging.  While I’ve had moments of the latter two, it really boils down to the 24 hours I have in a day.  Sometimes I choose sleep! This week, I’ve been pulling together our last inquiry block of the year at Anastasis.  I can’t believe that we are down to counting weeks before we say goodbye for the summer. Our last inquiry block is an inquiry into sharing the planet.  For our 6th through 8th graders the focus is: “People can choose to take specific actions to help conserve Earth’s resources.”  Each time I put together an inquiry guide for teachers, I am sure to offer plenty of more detailed questions that they can use to help guide the inquiry.  Below are some of the questions I included. What can people do to help conserve Earth’s resources? What are other countries doing to help/hurt conservation? How does United States demand impact Earth’s resources? What country has the most impact on Earth’s resources/the least? Why do you think this is? Is conservation a political issue? What is ecological overshoot? What is embodied energy? I love helping teachers craft the opportunities for students to be curious, to dig into learning.  During this planning, I found the following resources that are too good not to share! What it is: Embodied Energy free ebook download.  Created by a design firm, this ebook does a nice job explaining embodied energy. How to use the Embodied Energy ebook in the classroom:  This ebook is a well designed book that will introduce students to the energy that we don’t see in the objects around us.  This pdf can be projected for a whole class, downloaded on individual student devices or, if you must, printed out.  Use this ebook along with the Sustainability by Design TED talk playlist to spark student interest into embodied energy and how it can impact the decisions we make every day. These introductory activities led me to the Energy Trumps project.  This is a design project by the Agency of Design that looked at using design to help people better understand, and take-in-to-account, the way that we build, design and consume.  I absolutely love the idea of students working together as a class to study a variety of materials.  Each student could create one (or several) of their own embodied energy trading  cards to help others understand the environmental impacts of materials.  Students can research key environmental properties of materials including embodied energy, embodied carbon, embodied water, recycled content, extraction intensity and years of reserves.  These can be used to compare materials at a glance.  (If you purchase the cards created by Agency of Design, you get the added bonus of an augmented reality feature that brings the material properties to life to explore in 3D.  Students can test out the different amounts of material they can get for one megajoule of energy.) Take this a step further and ask students how they can use that information to help design a more sustainable future.  How can they hack every day objects?  How can they change the way that society builds, consumes, etc.? How can the idea of embodied energy be communicated to a larger audience so that more of the picture is taken into account by the average consumer? Any time I create a new inquiry block, I work to remember that we are in the business of apprenticing change makers.  These students matter and WILL change the world.  I love reminding students that age does not have to act as a restriction for world change. Felix Finkbeiner is a student in Germany (similar in age to these Anastasis students) who is changing the world in HUGE ways.  Felix’s Plant for the Planet initiative has started a movement of planting trees…millions of them!  Read the an article about Felix here. Felix has also addressed the United Nations with a speech to open the International Year of Forests which can be viewed here.  Students can use this embodied energy calculator to explore their own curiosities. The Happy Planet Index is a fantastic way to discover the extent to which 151 countries across the globe live happy and sustainable lives based on their efficiency, how many long and happy lives each produces per unit of environmental input.  Data can be viewed in map or table format.   I love the potential that a new inquiry block holds.  We offer guidance and some starting places to spark interest, but where students find passion is always exciting to watch unfold.  We truly are in the midst of genius in our students! The other reason to love inquiry? The brilliant way that it allows room for transdisciplinary exploration, and touches each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  I mean really, how can you beat learning that looks like life?

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Algebra Lab

Posted by admin | Posted in Apply, Knowledge (remember), Math, Middle/High School, Science, Teacher Resources, Understand (describe, explain), Websites | Posted on 01-10-2012

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What it is:  Algebra Lab may not be much to look at graphically speaking, but the resources here are pretty stupendous!  Algebra Lab was created by Mainland High School teachers in partnership with Georgia Southern University and a host of student assistance.  The site includes really well done lessons, activities, practice pages (online), study aids, glossary, and word problems.  Algebra Lab is like a free, living textbook.  It has enough substance to help students work their way through algebra, while understanding the connections to how that algebra is used in a practical sense.  I didn’t appreciate Algebra until I took physics and chemistry.  When I saw what those equations I learned were actually used for, I could appreciate the learning requirements in algebra.  Algebra Lab does a beautiful job of helping students learn algebra within a context so that they really get a grasp of what these numbers are doing.

How to integrate Algebra Lab into your curriculum: I have enjoyed watching the debate over Algebra unfold in the last year or so.  One side of the argument asks if it is really necessary that EVERY child be required to take algebra.  The other side argues that algebra has great thinking skills that it develops, it gives students additional tools to understand the world through math.  I’m not sure where I land on this debate.  I don’t know that I believe that algebra should be a requirement for every child, and yet I think that my exposure to algebra was valuable.  Maybe the debate just needs to be reframed…HOW should algebra be taught?  I’m all for things being taught within context.  If you can teach any subject in a way that sheds light on other learning it is valuable.  I love when students make the connections between something like ratios and a site like Miniature Earth.  They not only get excited about the math (yes, really) they see a purpose for wanting to learn more about how it works.  Sometimes I think our job of teachers is really to help students see the overlaps that occur in learning so that they can make connections and have a cause to want to dig deeper.

I digress…

Algebra Lab is a great resource for math (and non-math) teachers.  Here you will find lessons, activities, word problems and practice opportunities for students.  Students can directly access the site, or you (the teacher) can pull ideas out to use within any other teaching you are doing.  The site is great for students to explore on their own (blended learning algebra style) or with guidance from a teacher.  As a non-math teacher, I appreciate the way the site helps me think like a math teacher.  It reminds me how all of these pieces connect to other learning.

Tips: If you have a one-to-one setting, students can practice directly on the website for immediate feedback.  Very helpful!

***Want to do your part as a CHANGE MAKER in personalized education?  Check out, support and spread the word about the Learning Genome Project!

Please leave a comment and share how you are using Algebra Lab in your classroom!

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