Using Student Carbon Footprint Data to Connect to the Climate Change Debate (Day 1 of 2)

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Students will be able to analyze their own carbon footprint, share their data on an international website, and engage in conversations with students across the globe concerning the human impact on climate change.

Big Idea

Use a carbon footprint calculator and an online discussion forum to get your kids talking about climate change and how they can help!

Notes for the Teacher

In this lesson, students will be using the International Student Carbon Footprint Challenge website to track their carbon footprints, compare to those of other students throughout the world, and interact with international students through online discussion forum posts.  You can sign up your classes on the ISCFC teacher participation web page which will give you a list options for participation.  There are many carbon footprint calculators out there but in my experience they can be glitchy or clunky to use.  I feel this one is of the best footprint experiences available online.    

 What I liked best about this activity and this online resource:

    • Students like seeing how their CF is broken down into categories and this is reflected in their written and verbal reflections about what they can tweak to help reduce their carbon footprint (they are often surprised about the travel category and just how much airline flights increase their footprint).
    • Students love seeing their collective results published on the website and share it with their families and their classmates at school.  For me as a teacher, the more we can make learning visible the better it is for everyone's learning!  The conversations I heard taking place through the use of this simple personalized graphic were encouraging in their depth and nuance and served as a great formative assessment tool for me.
    • The online discussion forums link allowed students to connect with kids from around the world.  Students were excited to read, respond, and contribute to a set of wide-ranging environmental themes. You can read some of my student's reflections about this aspect of our climate change unit here and here.  Their feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and in addition to reading their thoughts, you can also watch this short video for more of my observations of student engagement and interest in this project.

I worked with this resource for the first time last fall and the students loved seeing how basic chemistry in their textbook related to their real life and the lives of students from all around the world.  I was amazed at how honest, critical, personal, and solution-oriented their reflections were as well as impressed by their level of engagement throughout the process.

For teacher support, the ISCFC has compiled a teacher guide for planning assistance.  This resource helped to boost my confidence in leading the activity for the first time.  This year, I didn't need to look at it once in order to successfully guide the students through the experience.  I can't wait to hear about your experiences with this carbon footprint challenge activity!  Enjoy! 

The Classroom Flow: Homework and Preparation

10 minutes

1. Introduce this activity by asking students if they know what the phrase 'carbon footprint' means fielding responses using a popcorn protocol.  

  • Note: The goal of this brief share out is to get the students ready to explore, investigate, and think and because of that, it can be a short process.    


2.  Tell students that they will be investigating their own carbon footprints and coming up with an action plan to reduce them.

3.  Give students their homework assignment, which is to use their carbon footprint challenge data sheet to assist them in tracking their own carbon footprint data.  

    • Explain to them that they will be bringing in their filled out data sheet on the homework due date and that they will be entering in their information onto the website for discussion and troubleshooting before moving on to data analysis and international sharing.  


    • Students will need more than one night in order to fill out their data sheets accurately and completely.  Some of the information requested will require them to calculate distances, observe or look for things in their home, and talk to their parents about household practices and purchases (such as light bulb choices and how many times family members turn off lights or use the dishwasher).  

The Classroom Flow: Compiling and Analyzing Personal Student Data

40 minutes

1. On the due date, students bring in their personal carbon footprint data and enter it into the online resource according to the directions outlined for them in their instructions on the front page of their data analysis and reflection document.  Hand out this graphic for students who prefer more visual directions.  

  • Note:  Students will have a smooth experience working with the website to enter their data.  Because the class won't be distracted by technical issues, you will hear all kinds of great conversations going on as they compare their numbers, offer feedback and tips, and share their impressions and reflections.  You will also have students take a break from their computer work to come over and talk to you about their ideas as well as the conversations they had with their family as they collected their data at home in preparation for this activity.  I found that students were highly engaged, curious, collaborative, and personally reflective throughout the activity.   


2.  Once students have entered their information and received an email back with their data broken down by category and summarized in an easily understood graphic, students complete their data analysis and reflection document in order to prepare for the second half of the activity that we work on together on Day 2.  See a student ISCFC document sample for more information on the types of answers you can expect to receive.

  • Note:  Many students like this freshman chose to share with me some of their extended thoughts on our carbon footprint activity by typing them out a separate document that they attached to their data analysis and reflection sheet. I loved that this activity inspired students to really connect, reflect, and communicate in this way! I felt that the analysis document was a good first attempt at connecting personal decision making in a way that directly relates to climate change, but really, the next phase of the project coming up seemed to really bring this relationship between personal action, public policy, and global consequences into focus.