Bringing LCA into the Grade-School Classroom: Analyzing Fuel Carbon Footprints

Bringing LCA into the Grade-School Classroom: Analyzing Fuel Carbon Footprints

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Pre-Conference Workshop: 

Bringing LCA into the Grade-School Classroom: Analyzing Fuel Carbon Footprints (2.5 CEUs) 


October 2, 2017, 1PM-3PM at the Sheraton Harborside Hotel, Portsmouth, NH

Workshop Description: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) has been taught at the collegiate level for many years, but there is a dearth of pre-collegiate LCA instruction in high school and middle school classes in the US. Expanding LCA into primary school lesson plans will not only help teachers meet the requirements of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but it will also bolster the name-recognition and broader societal-understanding of LCA in the future.


Presenters will share socially-relevant problem-based lessons that embody the active, integrated learning envisioned in the NGSS. Demonstrating proficiency in these standards requires students to apply cross-cutting concepts, such as tracing matter and energy and evaluating the sustainability of systems. The presentation will cover the NGSS and how bringing LCA into the middle and high school classroom can help educators meet the new expectations for student learning and performance.


Investigating transportation fuels is an engaging and approachable LCA topic for grade-school classrooms. Presenters will guide participants through a set of lessons in which students investigate the socio-scientific guiding question, “What is the most sustainable fuel for powering vehicles?” Like most issues, there is no simple answer, but LCA can illuminate problems and identify solutions.


The purpose of the session for attendees is to gain valuable insights on how to bring LCA into the grade-school and introductory collegiate classrooms and for the presenters is to gain valuable feedback about how well their exercise communicates LCA concepts and facilitates understanding.


Format: Presenters will give an overview presentation on the educational material and their experience working with high school and middle school educators (1 hour). Through the lessons we will describe then demonstrate, students brainstorm the steps involved in producing multiple fuels or energy sources for vehicles including fossil fuels, biofuels, and electricity produced in a number of different ways. They explore the environmental impacts of each step with particular emphasis on carbon emissions evaluated through LCA. Students dig one step deeper as they examine current data on the net carbon emissions, costs and environmental impacts of selected fuels and the learning can be extended to considering other energy sources, such as biogas. These lessons are grounded in learning progressions research and we will discuss some of the pedagogical considerations of teaching sustainability concepts in primary school and collegiate-level.


Next, the presenters will conduct a hands-on exercise to engage attendees in the actual exercise (1 hour). The hands-on activity is designed to introduce middle and high school students to the concept of LCA and guide them through the process of tracing matter and energy inputs in the production of biofuels. The lesson titled” Life Cycle Assessment of Biofuels 101” was developed by the presenters and based upon current research on student understanding of ecological systems and the carbon cycle. It has been used extensively in middle and high school classes since 2010. The lesson also was published in The Science Teacher [1] and featured in a case study in the Next Generation Science Standards “All Standards for All Students: Making the Next Generation Science Standards Accessible to All Students.[2]


Outcomes: Attendees will gain valuable insights into LCA instruction in a classroom (applicable in actual classroom settings from middle school through high school and college, but also could be adapted to help internal LCA-professionals at larger companies teach their colleagues about LCA). Information and outcomes will be shared with the LCA community through free online resources developed by the presenters for use by anyone.