Hands-on Activity: Enough Energy? Play the Renew-a-Bead Game

Contributed by: Office of Educational Partnerships, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY

Three photos: Streaking vehicle lights illuminate a highway near a row of skyscrapers at dusk. A line of vehicles at gas pumps under an illuminated roof. The sun sets on a prairie, making a silhouette of a drilling rig.
Coal, oil and natural gas—which come from our limited reserve of fossil fuels—provide more than 85% of all the U.S. energy consumed. What happens when we have exhausted our fossil fuel reserves?
copyright
Copyright © Climate Watch Magazine, NOAA Climate Services http://www.climatewatch.noaa.gov/article/2009/carbon-dioxide-earths-hottest-topic

Summary

The “renew-a-bead game” provides youngsters with a quantitative illustration of how non-renewable resources are depleted while renewable resources continue to provide energy. Student pairs remove beads—representing units of renewable and non-renewable energy—from a bag—representing a country. A certain number of beads are removed from the bag each "year." At some point, no non-renewable (fossil fuel) energy beads remain. Since groups/countries have different ratios of renewable and non-renewable energy beads in their bags, they compare the remaining beads and time when they ran out of energy to see the value of utilizing a greater proportion of renewable resources as a sustainable energy approach. A student worksheet with instructions, data collection table and discussion questions is provided.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers research, develop and design equipment that captures energy from renewable and fossil fuel resources for human use. Given the eventual depletion in fossil fuel resources, engineers design technologies that capture renewable energy resources in more efficient, reliable and economically competitive ways. The bag of beads used in this game represents a physical model of our energy resources. Engineers use models of systems to help them understand the systems, discover problems, and find solutions.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain why an increased dependence on renewable energy sources is an inevitable part of our future.
  • Describe how the depletion of fossil fuels is a serious global issue.

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Decisions to develop and use technologies often put environmental and economic concerns in direct competition with one another. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Energy is the capacity to do work. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • recognize and apply mathematics in contexts outside of mathematics (Grades Pre-K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • use representations to model and interpret physical, social, and mathematical phenomena (Grades Pre-K - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • work flexibly with fractions, decimals, and percents to solve problems (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • understand and use ratios and proportions to represent quantitative relationships (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • develop and analyze algorithms for computing with fractions, decimals, and integers and develop fluency in their use (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • model and solve contextual problems using various representations, such as graphs, tables, and equations (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • use graphs to analyze the nature of changes in quantities in linear relationships (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • select, create, and use appropriate graphical representations of data, including histograms, box plot, and scatterplots (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • use observations about differences between two or more samples to make conjectures about the populations from which the samples were taken (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. Students should base their explanation on what they observed, and as they develop cognitive skills, they should be able to differentiate explanation from description--providing causes for effects and establishing relationships based on evidence and logical argument. This standard requires a subject matter knowledge base so the students can effectively conduct investigations, because developing explanations establishes connections between the content of science and the contexts within which students develop new knowledge. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations. Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment. Students should begin to state some explanations in terms of the relationship between two or more variables. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry. Mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Perfectly designed solutions do not exist. All technological solutions have trade-offs, such as safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance. Engineers often build in back-up systems to provide safety. Risk is part of living in a highly technological world. Reducing risk often results in new technology. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Human activities also can induce hazards through resource acquisition, urban growth, land-use decisions, and waste disposal. Such activities can accelerate many natural changes. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Natural hazards can present personal and societal challenges because misidentifying the change or incorrectly estimating the rate and scale of change may result in either too little attention and significant human costs or too much cost for unneeded preventive measures. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Science influences society through its knowledge and world view. Scientific knowledge and the procedures used by scientists influence the way many individuals in society think about themselves, others, and the environment. The effect of science on society is neither entirely beneficial nor entirely detrimental. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Technology influences society through its products and processes. Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact. Technological changes are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes that can be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and to society. Social needs, attitudes, and values influence the direction of technological development. (Grades 5 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • 1 paper bag containing 100 black and white beads, with black beads representing non-renewable energy resources and white beads representing renewable energy resources; the ratio of black to white beads varies by group

95 black beads + 5 white beads

90 black beads + 10 white beads

80 black beads + 20 white beads

70 black beads + 30 white beads

Introduction/Motivation

Two lines on a graph show US oil production and oil imports, 1920-2006. Oil production peaked in the 1970s and has been declining since. Other than a dip in the 1980s, oil imports continue to rise.
US oil production and imports show the concept of peak oil.
copyright
Copyright © Graph data from US Dept. of Energy EIA

What do we call energy resources that are replenished at the same rate that we use them? (Listen to student answers.) That’s right, we call them renewable energy resources. What are some examples of renewable energy resources? (Listen to student answers.) That’s right; solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy are good examples. Biomass can be renewable if we use the plant material at the same rate that it grows. If we chop down and burn all the trees in a short period though, that resource is not considered renewable.

If you think about it, fossil fuels may also be considered a form of solar energy because they were generated from biomass materials that existed millions of years ago. But we do not consider them to be renewable because we use them at a MUCH faster rate than they were generated.

In the 1960s, a petroleum geologist predicted that the U.S. production of oil would decline shortly since most of the easily extracted oil was already pumped from the ground and new oil reserves were not being found in the U.S. Dr. Hubbert was correct. U.S. oil production started to decline around 1970. Now, geologists and petroleum engineers predict a new peak in oil production, but this time it will be a global peak. It is important to have alternative energy resources available for human use so that when this new peak hits, we have the energy resources to keep the infrastructure of our societies operating.

The goal of today’s game is to use a model of an energy system to see how important renewable resources are so that our country (represented by the paper bag) does not run out of energy (represented by the beads).

Procedure

Before class:

  • Count out the colored beads and put them into bags for each group.
  • Organize the rest of the materials for each group.
  • Make copies of the Renew-a-Bead Game Worksheet, one per student.

With the students:

  1. Divide the class into groups of two students each. Distribute the materials.

  2. Provide context and kick off the game by presenting the Introduction/Motivation content.

  3. Make sure students understand that the bag and beads are intended to represent a country and its energy resources mix; we call this a model.

  4. Expect students to be able to follow the worksheet instructions and complete the tasks.

  5. Class discussion: Regroup and compare answers among the different "countries." Discuss results and takeaways. Suggested questions and topics to cover:

    • What happened to the black beads? (The non-renewable energy units were all used up! Relate this to the importance of a country obtaining some renewable energy resources, given that present fossil fuel reserves will inevitably be used up at some point in the future.)
    • Looking ahead, what advice would you give to a country that is making plans so it has enough future energy resources? (Many possible answers. One possible solution to our current energy situation is to use of more renewable resources now, rather than mostly non-renewable energy resources. If fossil fuels are limited, what is our smartest use of them?)
    • What is a model? What was the model in today's game? What do the game components represent? (The renew-a bead game is an example of modeling. Scientists and engineers often make models to help them understand situations, discover issues and problems, and find alternatives, improvements and solutions. Talk about how modeling is used in your research and/or classes.)
    • As a class, review students' completed Fossil Fuel Graphing Homework, which was assigned in the associated lesson, Energy Resources and Systems.
    • Go over the graphs and results as a class.
    • Discuss the inevitable demand/ supply problem that we will face with fossil fuels because they are non-renewable.
    • Discuss uncertainties: We do not know when we will face these problems, but it will likely be in students' lifetimes.

Attachments

Assessment

Worksheet: At activity end, have students hand in their data tables and answers to the worksheet discussion questions for teacher review.

Other Related Information

This activity was originally published by the Clarkson University K-12 Project Based Learning Partnership Program and may be accessed at  http://internal.clarkson.edu/highschool/k12/project/energysystems.html.

Contributors

Susan Powers; Jan DeWaters; and a number of Clarkson and St. Lawrence University students in the K-12 Project Based Learning Partnership Program

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2008 Clarkson University

Supporting Program

Office of Educational Partnerships, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY

Acknowledgements

This activity was developed under National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 0428127 and DGE 0338216. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: November 28, 2018

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