I open the lesson by quoting to the class what a very wise person once said about the future of energy use:
"I put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until coal and oil run out before we tackle that!"
I ask the students to think about who may have said that and when it was said. I give them a minute of think time, them ask them to turn to a partner and share their thoughts. For this time I like to use a strategy I call, "Peanut Butter and Jelly Partners" (I explain it in my reflection).
After allowing each pair time to share their thoughts, I explain to the class that Thomas Edison made that comment in 1931. The inventor of the incandescent light-bulb wasn't an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination. On the contrary, many of his inventions were power-hungry. But like many scientists at the time, Thomas Edison was beginning to realize that fossil fuels wouldn't last forever.
I set up the next part of the lesson by asking the students to consider the following questions:
We discuss this question in a quick, Boggle-style game. I give the students three minutes to list, on paper, all of the items they use, on a regular basis, that require electricity. I select one student to read their list, while all other students cross off any items that match what that student has said. As long as someone has at least one item on their list, we continue. This will help students to realize items they may have forgotten about, and how much their daily lives depend on electricity.
Next, I explain that on August 14, 2003, New York City again became shockingly aware of how reliant we are on electric power. (The first time was in 1965.) For some, the day was a nightmare; for others, it was one of the greatest evenings of their life.
I have students reflect on the video by thinking about and sharing their responses to the following questions using a Think, Pair, Share:
I have students do some research on both fossil fuels and alternative energy sources by forming groups of 3 and completing the Fossil Fuels & Alternative Energy Graphic Organizer. They will research online to find out the supply levels, supply locations, benefits, and drawbacks of each energy source.
One of the sites I encourage the students to visit is the Renewable Energy page, provided by National Geographic. This is a great starting point to learn about the types of alternative energy sources available to us.
In addition to the research, students also participate in the Alternative Energy Interactive to learn about which energy sources are the most efficient in certain parts of the world.
I split the class into six groups and assign* each group an alternative fuel. The group must argue for the increased use of that fuel throughout the world, and try to refute all others, in a debate. I provide the students time in class to meet in their assigned group in order to collaborate, research, and prepare their arguments.
Students must use evidence from the simulation and their research to support their claims. they must also consider counterclaims and decide how to best argue against them. I provide an argumentative graphic organizer to help them prepare their information.
*I like to assign groups instead of allowing them to choose, because it requires students to conduct additional research and use higher order thinking skills to argue for a certain side even if they don't personally agree. It also allows me to purposefully put students together in order to move them out of their comfort zone, working with students who they don't socialize with on a regular basis, and/or requiring them to take on roles that they wouldn't normally take.