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        Managing Your Energy Budget

        Have students take an ecological footprint assessment.

        Lesson Summary


        Students will experience an inequitable resource distribution (using a circular treat like cake or pizza) and electronically calculate their own Ecological Footprint. Students will assess their resource use and learn more about sustainable living strategies in a video tour by Penn State University graduate student and Center for Sustainability full-time resident, David Lettero. Students will be challenged to reflect on their own patterns of consumption to suggest ways in which they could realistically reduce their resource use.

        Content Objectives

        Students will know that

        • Natural resource distribution varies geographically.
        • Social and economic activities affect how resources are made available to communities and individuals.

        Process Objectives

        Students will be able to

        • Describe an inequitable resource distribution.
        • Explain how technology has decreased the use of raw natural resources and increased our efficiency of their use.
        • Analyze the connection between resource distribution and human social and economic systems.

        Assessment Strategies

        • Participation in classroom discussion.
        • Reflective writing activity.
        • Completion of individual ecological footprint interpretation and student handout.

        Grade Level: 6-12

        Suggested Time

        Two to three (2-3) 50 minute class periods.


        • Cake, pizza or other circular treat that can be cut into wedges
        • 1-paper plate, napkin, fork per student
        • Server
        • Teacher computer with Internet access (for video presentation)
        • Computers with Internet access (1 per student)
        • Printer access per student
        • Projection equipment
        • Overhead Population and GNI Comparison PDF Document

        • Ecological Footprint Student Handout PDF Document

        • Student Journals

        Multimedia Resources

        The Lesson

        Part I: Eating Cake (1 50 minute Class Period)

        1. Prior to the lesson day, make or purchase a cake, pizza, etc. to share with your class.

        2. Show the cake to the class and explain that you have brought it to share with them and learn more about natural resources.

        3. Ask the students if the classroom next door should be invited to join them in eating the cake. If the students say no, ask them why not. Explain that this represents the concept of environmental scarcity, where there is not enough of a resource for everyone who wants or needs it. (If the class from next door came over, there would be less resource per person.)

        4. Explain that you will not invite the class from next door; you will divide the cake for the class to share. Ask them to imagine that they represent all the people on the earth. Share the pie graphs found in the PDF below comparing the distribution of population (the graphic has two pie graphs--cover the second one focusing on GNI (Gross National Income) so that you can build the discussion about the first pie graph.)

        Overhead Population and GNI Comparison PDF Document

        5. Separate the class into groups as shown in the table below:

        For a class of 30: For a class of 20: Representing % of Earth’s Population
        4 3 Africa 13%
        2 1 US and Canada 5%
        3 2 Latin America 9%
        4 2 Europe 12%
        17 12 Asia 61%

        6. Ask each region how they feel about this distribution. Explain to students that the cake is going to be distributed as resources are actually divided up in the world, based upon per capita GNI. Share the second pie graph at this point. Cut the cake into proportions indicated by the second pie graph. Put the pieces of cake on separate plates and distribute to each region.

        7. Ask each region how they feel about their share of the cake. Ask each region what they are going to do about the situation. Will they migrate to the US and Canada to share in their cake? Allow students to work through this issue (some discrimination may not be a bad point to allow students to make).

        8. To end this class period, some sample prompts are listed below to assist students in completing a reflective free-write about their experience. Have them use the student handout to complete their reflection.
        How does this game relate to the real world?
        How would this have been different if you had not eaten much or anything in a few days?
        What are some real examples of people trying to get more cake?
        What are some ways that you can address the inequitable distribution of resources?.

        Part II: What is Your Ecological Footprint? (1 50 minute Class Period)

        9. Introduce PSU Center for Sustainability and explore a Hybrid Homestead at Center for Sustainability at Penn State University Tour. Share video segments 1 and 2 to introduce the concept of ecological footprint. (Note: the videos may be accessed either through the virtual tour or individually at the links below.)

        10. Share the ecological footprint calculator with students and discuss ways in which non-driving students can complete the questions about travel and transportation. Clarify any unfamiliar terms by walking through the survey with the entire class. Allow students to access and complete the ecological footprint calculator at: Redefining Progress Ecological Footprint Calculator and print their personal report.

        11. Share the following website with students and highlight the major trends: Major Trends. It is helpful to exemplify the term acre. A helpful comparison is that an acre is roughly the same size as a football field.

        12. Describe homework activity (Part III) and model ways that one may reduce their ecological footprint.

        Part III: Take It Home to Think (Homework Assignment)

        13. Students should use page 2 of the handout below to prepare a short analysis of the results of their ecological footprint report for homework. Additionally, ask students to brainstorm and record any ways that they may personally be able to reduce their impact on resource use.

        Ecological Footprint Student Handout PDF Document

        Part IV: (40 minutes)

        14. At the Center for Sustainability at Penn State University Tourfind and share video segments 3-7 about the Hybrid Homestead for an example of how one person is working to reduce his ecological footprint. (Note: the videos may be accessed either through the virtual tour or individually at the links below.)

        15. Challenge students to propose ways that they would be comfortable altering their lifestyle to reduce their impact. Give them an opportunity to revisit their brainstorming from the previous class to modify it if necessary. Remind students that not everyone would see the way of living proposed in the video as acceptable and that geographic constraints will dictate what options are even available as alternatives.

        16. Allow students to formulate and record their ideas on separate sheets of paper and then prompt them to share their ideas with a partner or small group.

        17. Lead a class discussion to highlight students’ strategies for reducing their ecological footprint.

        Part V: Extension

        18. Undertake an action project with students to identify the ecological footprint of the school or community. Links to “calculators” (metrics) developed by the Environmental Protection Authority of Victoria, Australia, are included in the Additional Resources section.

        19. Mathematics connection: Analyze the metrics used by the organization Redefining Progress in calculating ecological footprint.


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