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Sustainability

Ranking green electricity

Use criteria and scientific evidence to decide which method to generate electricity is the greenest.

  • Grade 12
  • Thought Starter
  • 40 mins
  • New

Overview

Your students will rank four types of electricity generation from the most to the least green. After developing criteria for a green method of generating electricity, students use scientific information about each method to revisit and refine their initial rankings.

What you'll need

  • "Electricity Generation Ranking Ladder" worksheet (one for each student)
  • "Coal-fired Generated Electricity" handout (two or three copies)
  • "Solar Generated Electricity" handout (two or three copies)
  • "Nuclear Generated Electricity" handout (two or three copies)
  • "Hydro Generated Electricity" handout (two or three copies)

Instructions

  1. Organize your students into small groups (2-4 students) and provide each student with a copy of the "Electricity Generation Ranking Ladder" worksheet. Ask them to rank each of the four methods of generating electricity (coal, solar, nuclear, and hydro) on the ladder from the greenest (top of the ladder) to the least green (bottom of the ladder).
  2. Invite groups to share their rankings with the class. As they share, use their ideas to co-develop or present criteria for a green method of generating electricity. The criteria might include:
    • amount of carbon emissions
    • sustainable use of natural resources
    • impacts on ecosystems
  3. Review the criteria with your students, then guide their attention back to the worksheet. Prompt them to use the ranking ladder to rank each method of generating electricity, this time carefully thinking about the criteria. 
  4. Place the copies of the handouts around the room. Ask groups to visit each type of electricity generation, and encourage them to look for evidence that could be used to rank each method. 
  5. After groups have visited and collected evidence about each method, ask them to revisit their worksheets. Ask students to do a final ranking of each method, this time using both the criteria and the information from the handouts. 
  6. Encourage groups to explain their rankings and thinking with the class. 
  7. To conclude the activity, invite groups to suggest what actions might improve the ratings of each method of generating electricity. 

Additional Information

Throughout the activity, assess your students’ abilities to:

  • Apply their understanding of the ways electricity generation can impact the environment to help determine their ranking.
  • Recognize the importance of science in informing thoughtful and reasonable positions on environmental issues.
  • Are able to self-correct and extend their thinking from the beginning of the activity to the end.
  • Pay close attention to appropriate details.
  • Use relevant scientific terminology correctly to support their conclusions (e.g., emissions and greenhouse gases, sustainable practices, causes of climate change, habitat/ecosystem loss.
  • Invite students to create their own information sheet for another method of generating electricity such as natural gas or wind.
  • Assign groups one of the methods of generating electricity. 

As a thought starter, this activity is designed to help reveal students’ understandings, beliefs, and/or misconceptions about the various impacts of methods used to generate electricity.

If necessary, assist students in reading and reviewing the handouts to ensure the scientific terminology, symbols, and notations are understood.

Grade 12 Environmental Science

Big Idea 

  • Human activities cause changes in the global climate system

Content

  • Changes to climate systems
  • Impacts of global warming
  • Mitigation and adaptations

Curricular Competencies 

Questioning and predicting
  • Demonstrate a sustained intellectual curiosity about a scientific topic or problem of personal, local, or global interest.
  • Make observations aimed at identifying their own questions, including increasingly abstract ones about the natural world.
Processing and analyzing data and information
  • Construct, analyze, and interpret graphs, models, and/or diagrams.
  • Use knowledge of scientific concepts to draw conclusions that are consistent with evidence
  • Analyze cause-and-effect relationships. 
Evaluating
  • Demonstrate an awareness of assumptions, question information, and identify bias in their own work and in primary and secondary sources.
  • Consider the changes in knowledge over time as tools and technologies have developed
  • Critically analyze the validity of information in primary and secondary sources and evaluate the approaches used to solve problems.
Communicating 
  • Communicate scientific ideas and information, and perhaps a suggested course of action, for a specific purpose and audience, constructing evidence-based arguments and using appropriate scientific language, conventions, and representations.

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