Hands-on Activity: The Great Divide

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

A 3-dimensional drawing of a pie chart, with four different colored sections. Three people are each trying to grab the three largest sections.
Students examine the distribution of our nonrenewable resources
copyright
Copyright © Microsoft Corporation 1983-2001.

Summary

In this activity, students use cookies to simulate the distribution of our nonrenewable resources (energy). Then, they discuss how the world's growing population affects the fairness and effectiveness of this distribution of these resources and how engineers work to develop technologies to support the population.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Some engineers develop creative and inexpensive technologies for individuals, groups or countries that lack the funds to buy expensive natural resources. For instance, civil engineers design small-scale water cleaning systems for communities that are unable to afford water treatment facilities and large water transfer networks that bring clean water to homes. This provides a clean local water source for cooking, drinking and cleaning. They also design dependable, robust and affordable water filters to reduce sickness from poor water quality.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Develop an understanding of how nonrenewable resources are distributed.
  • Understand some of the important issues (fairness and effectiveness) surrounding the division of the Earth's natural resources.
  • Relate a model of energy resource consumption using fractions.
  • Understand how engineers work to develop technologies to conserve our natural resources and replace current technologies.

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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?
  • Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. (Grades 6 - 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?
  • Explain why a fraction a/b is equivalent to a fraction (n × a)/(n × b) by using visual fraction models, with attention to how the number and size of the parts differ even though the two fractions themselves are the same size. Use this principle to recognize and generate equivalent fractions. (Grade 4) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Individual, family, community, and economic concerns may expand or limit the development of technologies. (Grades 3 - 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Solve word problems involving division of whole numbers leading to answers in the form of fractions or mixed numbers. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop and communicate a scientific explanation addressing a question of local relevance about resources generated by the sun or Earth (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Analyze and interpret a variety of data to understand the origin, utilization, and concerns associated with natural resources (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each class should have:

  • 10-12 cookies for the activity, plus 1 per person to eat

Introduction/Motivation

Have you ever noticed how quickly some areas of your state and/or city/town are growing? Maybe you have driven past a piece of land that used to be an empty field and now it has homes or a new shopping center on it. Is your neighborhood or city growing in size? Well, it is no surprise if it has. As we learn to take better care of our health and medicines are developed that help us live longer, the number of people who are born and live each year increases. The human population has more than doubled over the last 50 years — from about 2.5 billion to over 5 billion. This growth affects our natural resources both directly and indirectly. Land is cleared at an alarming rate to provide shelter (homes, hotels and office buildings) and additional sources for food (restaurants and grocery stores), transportation (bus and train depots, new/used car lots, parking lots) and entertainment (movie theatres, bowling alleys, shopping malls). This increased population also generates more waste and places higher demands on our limited resources, such as energy. The greater the number of people who exist, then the greater the amount of resources that are needed for their sustainability (i.e., to feed them and keep them comfortable).

However, our limited resources are not always fairly and effectively managed. Rich western countries, with only a mere 20% of the world's population, use 70% of the world's energy resources. Does that sound fair? That means that people/countries who have enough money to buy the resources usually receive more resources than people/countries who cannot afford them. Many wealthy countries also get more food than they need — and waste much of this surplus of food, while poorer countries often do not get enough.

Many engineers specifically work on developing more inexpensive technologies for people who cannot afford to purchase expensive natural resources. One example is civil engineers who are designing clean water technology for poor countries so that water can be sanitized for cooking, drinking and cleaning. Many countries cannot afford expensive water treatment plants nor can its inhabitants cannot afford the systems — like a sink and plumbing — to bring water into their homes. A method is needed to clean the water as it is taken directly from a local source, like a river or well, so that it can be brought into homes and used safely. Engineers work on developing inexpensive filters that work well and will not often break down so that residents of these less fortunate countries will not get sick from using the water that comes directly from their local water source.

Procedure

The night/days before the activity, buy/bake enough cookies for 10-12 for the actual activity plus one cookie for each student to eat after the activity. (The activity cookies will be handled by students and should be discarded; students should be given a new cookie to eat at the end of the activity.)

With the Students

Part 1

  1. Ask student's to come up with a definition of energy resources. Have them brainstorm a list of energy resources (e.g., oil, gas, coal, wind, etc.)
  2. Hold up a cookie for the students to see. Explain that cookies represents the "energy resource" for the class. The resources are limited to the pile of cookies (they are nonrenewable) and should not to be eaten yet!
  3. Have 2 students stand next to a desk (call them Consumers) with 2 cookies on plate (call them Resource) on top of the desk. Ask the other students how many cookies each of the Consumers should get. (Answer: One whole cookie each if they decide to divide them equally.)
  4. Add two more students to the Consumers group. Now how much does each of the four Consumers get? (Answer: 1/2 cookie each if they decide to divide them equally.)
  5. Add four more students to the Consumers group. Now how much does each of the eight Consumers get? (Answer: 1/4 cookie each if they decide to divide them equally.) If desired, continue doubling (or more) the group size until all students participate.
  6. Ask the students how this example relates to the world's growing population and increasing demand for resources. (Answer: The doubling of the population increases the demand for resources and decreases the amount of resources that is available to each person.)
  7. Ask the students to describe some of the different ways that the cookies could be divided among the group. (Possible answers: They can divide them equally among each student, they could give more to the students wearing blue, they could give all of them to one student who decides how to "share" them, etc. Any suggestion for dividing the cookies should be accepted.)
  8. Ask students to describe what is "fair" for the distribution of resources. (Accept all suggestions, and emphasize that students explain their reasoning.)

Part 2

  1. Divide the class into two groups: one group of 2 students and the other group comprised of the rest of the students.
  2. Divide 10 cookies into two equal piles. Put a pile of cookies in front of each group.
  3. Ask the students if they believe that the distribution of cookies is fair. Ask the students in each group to describe how they feel about the distribution.
  4. Compare the cookies to the world's nonrenewable resources, such as coal, oil, etc. (Emphasize here that rich countries — especially western ones — often get a higher percentage of the resources even though they have a smaller population.)
  5. Ask the groups to suggest ways that they could divide the cookies that they currently have. (Accept all suggestions.)
  6. Ask the larger group to suggest things they might do to get some of the cookies from the smaller group. (The students will come up with many creative ideas. These could range from doing favors for the other group, borrowing the cookies and paying cookie "interest," buying, trading or stealing the cookies, declaring war, etc.)
  7. Ask the smaller group what they could do to more "fairly" share the cookies. (Accept all answers. They may be things like sharing, selling, trading, breaking cookies apart, etc.)
  8. Ask the smaller group if they want to share their cookies and explain why or why not.
  9. Ask if any student thinks it's a good idea to save some of the cookies for a snack later. Have them explain why or why not. (This is a good time to talk about conservation of our resources.)
  10. Ask students to describe how this example relates to the management and distribution of our natural resources.

Part 3

  1. Have students draw a picture which illustrates the use of one energy resource. Is this resource renewable or non-renewable? How does increasing population affect this resource?
  2. While students are drawing, give one cookie to each student to enjoy!

Troubleshooting Tips

Be sure students do not eat the cookies until the end of the activity.

Be sure to check to see if students are allergic to any foods before buying/baking the cookies.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Definition: Ask the students to come up with a definition of renewable resources.

Brainstorming: As a class, have the students engage in open discussion. Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses. Give clues if necessary. 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. Record their ideas on the board. Ask the students to:

  • List energy resources (e.g., oil, gas, coal, wind, etc.). Write the list on the board.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Question/Answer: Ask the students and discuss as a class:

  • How does the cookie example relate to the world's growing population and increasing demand for resources? (Answer: The doubling of the population increases the demand for resources and decreases the amount that is available to each person.)
  • What are some of the different ways that the cookies could be divided among the group? (Answer: They can divide them equally among each student, they could give more to the students wearing blue, they could give all of them to one student who decides how to "share" them, etc. Any suggestion for dividing the cookies should be accepted.)
  • What is "fair" for the distribution of resources? (Answer: Accept all suggestions, and emphasize that students explain their reasoning.)

Post-Activity Assessment

Drawing: Have students draw a picture which illustrates the use of one energy resource. Is this resource renewable or non-renewable? How does increasing population affect this resource?

Engineering Application: Using the above drawing, have the students use their imagination to design a technology to help conserve this resource. What would this resource be called? What would it do? Where would it be used?

Activity Extensions

Consider talking about equivalent fractions. For example, describe how ½ is the same amount as 2/4. Use cookie (or pie) pieces as manipulatives to show this fraction.

Have students compare and contrast the population and resource use of "western" vs. "non-western" countries. Discuss what the countries do differently that leads to the extreme differences in natural resource use.

Discuss the difference between resources like wheat and "finished products" like cookies. What happens if one country grows all the wheat but cannot afford the final cookie product? Is that fair? Why or why not?

Activity Scaling

For 3rd grade, have students draw pictures and/or use manipulatives to describe how the cookies should be divided.

For 4th grade, do the activity as is.

For 5th grade, ask students to use numerical representations, like ¼, to describe the divisions. Also, they can discuss the percentages related to each situation. For example, in the beginning of Part 1, 50% of the population receives 50% of the "energy resources." They can then use this information to discuss "fair" management in more detail.

References

Bosak, Susan V. Science is...: A source book of fascinating facts, projects, and activities, Markham, Ontario: Scholastic Canada Ltd., pg. 207, 2000.

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. 0338326. 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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