Hands-on Activity: Is That Natural?

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A photograph of a small boy, wearing a red t-shirt, drinking water from a garden hose.
Figure 1. A child enjoys a drink of water.
copyright
Copyright © Photo by Charlie Rahm, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Summary

Students brainstorm ways that they use — and waste — natural resources. Also, they respond to some facts about population growth and how people use petroleum. Lastly, students consider the different ways that engineers interact with and use our natural resources.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers are continuously finding innovative ways to conserve our natural resources. They design energy-efficient houses that are "built-green" to save natural resources. Engineers also design hybrid cars — a cross between electric and gasoline-powered cars — for increased fuel efficiency. Also, many environmental engineers are evolving technologies that use renewable natural resources, such as wind, water and sun as primary energy sources.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Classify the Earth's natural resources as either renewable or non-renewable.
  • Develop a better understanding of the magnitude of the use/destruction of non-renewable natural resources.
  • Understand the impact that the world's population growth has on our natural resources.
  • Describe ways in which people can help conserve resources.

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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.

  • Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment. (Grade 4) 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?
  • Fluently multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Find whole-number quotients of whole numbers with up to four-digit dividends and two-digit divisors, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the relationship between multiplication and division. Illustrate and explain the calculation by using equations, rectangular arrays, and/or area models. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Waste must be appropriately recycled or disposed of to prevent unnecessary harm to the environment. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The use of technology affects the environment in good and bad ways. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group should have:

  • One copy of the Is That Natural? Worksheet
  • Two calculators

Introduction/Motivation

Natural resources are things that are found in nature and are used by living things. What are some examples of natural resources? Plants, fish, land, minerals, and fossil fuels — like coal — are common natural resources. Petroleum is another natural resource that is used for many things. Petroleum is an oil that is turned into fuel — like kerosene, oil or gas — and is used for energy and transportation. As we continue to use many of these natural resources, it is important that we find ways to replace them. Resourced that cannot be replaced in our lifetime are called non-renewable resources and include land, oil, coal and minerals, among others.

As the population of the world continues to increase, so does the use of natural resources. As these needs for resources rise, the need for energy increases. If you first have three people who want to use a stack of paper and then 30 more people who want to use the same stack of paper, what do you think happens to that stack of paper? Well, the more people who use the paper, it will most likely get used up faster. People may start to argue over who gets to use the paper, and they may get angry at each other when the paper is all gone. This same principle applies to our natural resources, especially in regards to land to live on, animals and plants for food and fossil fuels for energy. When these items are all used up, what will we humans do? Well, for now we can think about decreasing our use of natural resources by being careful about our use and waste of these precious supplies. Do we constantly leave lights on, wasting energy? Do we write or draw on only one side of a piece of paper? Do we make unnecessary trips in our vehicles? These are all things we can consider when thinking about our use of natural resources.

Luckily, engineers are out there to help us better conserve. Engineers find ways to decrease the use of natural resources by designing buildings, cars and other human-made objects to have a minimal impact on natural resources. Engineers are working to develop technologies to take advantage of renewable natural resources, like wind, water and sun for energy.

Today, we are going to look at how we use — and waste — our natural resources and how population growth affects the supply of natural resources. We will think about how engineers help us use our resources wisely and what we can do to help conserve our precious supplies.

Procedure

Before the Lesson

  • Make enough copies of the Is That Natural? Worksheet so that each group has one.

With the Students

  1. Divide students into groups of 4 students, and assign each group member one of the following "jobs" for the activity:
  • Recorder – writes down the consensus responses to the questions/tasks.
  • Timekeeper/Reporter – keeps track of the time allotted for each part of the assignment and reports the answers to the class during the class discussion.
  • Coordinator – facilitates the discussion, ensuring each student shares input on each question/task.
  • Evaluator – reads through the responses orally, checking for grammar, comprehension and consensus error.
  1. Review each of the job responsibilities with the class. Answer any questions students have about their expectations.
  2. Ask the following discussion question, "What is a natural resource?" Discuss and inform students they will learn more about natural resources in this activity.
  3. Distribute a copy of the Is That Natural? Worksheet to each group. Ask the Recorder to write the names of all the team members on the top of the paper.
  4. Read the directions out loud to Part 1. Then give the students 5-10 minutes to brainstorm the list. (Each student should contribute at least 2 ideas to the list.)
  5. Ask the students to use the last couple of minutes to review/revise their group's answers. (The Evaluator should do this orally within the group.)
  6. Ask the Reporters to share their group's responses to Part 1 with the class (5-10 minutes). (Consider asking them to describe exactly how the action is wasteful. For example, using new plastic "Ziploc" bags in their lunches each day wastes the petroleum used to make the plastic; they could either reuse some of the bags or use a non-disposable container instead.)
  7. Read the directions out loud to Part 2. Give the students 5 minutes to brainstorm the list.
  8. Ask the students to use the last couple of minutes to review/revise their group's answers. (The Evaluator should do this orally within the group.)
  9. Ask the Reporters share their group's responses to Part 2 with the class. (5-10 minutes)
  10. Read the directions and questions to Part 3. Give the groups 10-15 minutes to work towards the answers.
  11. Ask the students to use the last couple of minutes to review/revise their group's answers. (The Evaluator should do this orally within the group.)
  12. Ask the Reporters to share their group's responses to Part 3 with the class. (5 minutes) As a class, discuss the significance of their answers.
  13. Read the directions and questions to Part 4. Give the groups 10 minutes to work towards the answers.
  14. Ask the students to use the last couple of minutes to review/revise their group's answers. (The Evaluator should do this orally within the group.)
  15. Ask the Reporters to share their group's responses to Part 4 with the class. (5 minutes). As a class, discuss the significance of their answers.
  16. Ask all students to initial next to their names (at the top of the paper) to indicate that they participated in their group and that they agree that the information on the paper reflects the consensus of their group.
  17. Collect the papers.
  18. Ask each team to spend five minutes brainstorming ways they can conserve one natural resource this week.

Attachments

Troubleshooting Tips

  • Some students will need assistance reading and understanding large numbers
  • Be sure student calculators will accept numbers into the billions

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Discussion Question: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses.

  • What is a natural resource? (Answer: Natural resources are things that are found in nature and are used by living things; examples are: coal, water, land, plants, fish, etc.)

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet: Have students follow along with the Is that Natural? Worksheet. Assign each group member one of the following "jobs" for the activity: recorder, time keeper, coordinator or evaluator. Each job has a responsibility throughout the activity. Encourage teamwork and cooperation.

Post-Activity Assessment

Brainstorming: As a class, have the students engage in open discussion. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Take an uncritical position, encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Have them raise their hands to respond. Write their ideas on the board. Ask the students:

  • What are ways they can conserve one natural resource this week? Students should spend 5 minutes on this task.

Flyer: Have students create an informational flyer about one way that they could conserve natural resources. Hang these flyers around the room or in the hallway or other common area to share with the school.

Activity Extensions

Locate other statistics about our natural resources. Have student perform calculations similar to the Is That Natural? Worksheet to help make these numbers "real."

Create a poster for the school showing the significance of some of your discoveries.

Activity Scaling

For 3rd grade, students will likely have difficulty dealing with the calculations in this activity, but may enjoy thinking about such large numbers. Consider talking about the results of the calculations rather than doing them.

For 4th grade, do the activity as is.

For 5th grade, consider asking older students to find other ways to describe the numbers. (For example, ask how many years it would take to count to 5 billion or comparing the birth rate to the population of your city.)

References

http://photogallery.nrcs.usda.gov/

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/

Ecology Earth's Natural Resources Activity Book (Prentice Hall Science), New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1993.

Hassard, Jack. Science as Inquiry: Active Learning, Project-Based, Web-Assisted, and Active Assessment Strategies to Enhance Student Learning, Tucson, Arizona: Good Year Books, 2000.

Glencoe Science: An Introduction to the Life, Earth and Physical Sciences, Student Edition, Blacklick, Ohio: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Contributors

Amy Kolenbrander; Jessica Todd; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Janet Yowell

Copyright

© 2005 by Regents of the University of Colorado.

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0226322. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: June 17, 2017

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