Polar Bears and PCs: Technology’s Unintended Consequences

How Does an iPod Affect a Polar Bear?

Photo courtesy of Amanda Graham (Yukon White Light) via Flickr.

When we talk about the problems of global climate change, we tend to focus on cars and coal-burning power plants as major contributors. Yet there are other significant players, including consumer electronics. The number of cell phones, MP3 players, laptops, and flat-screen TVs is increasing rapidly, and not just in wealthier nations. It is estimated that one in nine people in Africa has a cell phone – and those numbers are expected to continue growing.

A recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that new devices such as MP3 players, cell phones, and flat-screen TVs will triple energy consumption. Two hundred new nuclear power plants would be needed just to power all the TVs, iPods, PCs, and other devices expected to be used by 2030.

For example, consider televisions. The IEA estimates that 2 billion TVs will soon be in use across the world (an average of 1.3 TVs for every household with electricity). TVs are also getting bigger and being left on for longer periods of time. IEA predicts a 5 percent annual increase in energy consumption between 1990 and 2030 from televisions alone.

While consumer electronics is the fastest growing area, it is also the area with the least amount of policies to control energy efficiency. Total greenhouse gas emissions for electronic gadgets is currently at about 500 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. If nothing is done, the IEA estimates that the figure will double to about 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. However, the agency says that existing technologies could reduce this figure by 30-50 percent at little cost. Allowing consumers to regulate energy consumption based on the features they actually use, minimum-performance standards, and easy-to-read energy labels can help consumers make smarter energy choices about their personal electronics.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

This story connects to two National Science Education Standards domains: Science and Technology and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives. The Science and Technology content standard states:

Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot.

The Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standard includes resource use and depletion, human-induced and naturally occurring hazards, and science and technology in society.

Ask students to consider electronic gadgets – cell phones, digital cameras and video cameras, MP3 players, flat-screen TVs, laptops, and so forth. Have students brainstorm the benefits of these devices. Easier communication, access to data, entertainment, and mobility will probably come up. Then ask students to brainstorm “costs” or negative characteristics. Expense will certainly be mentioned, but will the energy cost?

If you have access to an electric power monitor such as a Kill-a-Watt, you can have students plug in different gadgets and compare power consumption. This simple activity can give rise to a number of inquiry-based investigations, such as: What’s the most energy-efficient MP3 player?; Do laptops and desktops consume the same amount of power?; Does screen size (on an MP3, cell phone, laptop, or TV) affect power consumption?; and so on.

Share some of the figures from the IEA report with students. Discuss the idea that making technology (cell phones, laptops and Internet access) available to more people is a good thing, but there are intended and unintended consequences. Greater access to technology enables widespread communication and promotes education, but also requires more energy – most of which comes from fossil fuels. Burning those fossil fuels releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and causing Arctic sea ice decline. So all those iPods do impact polar bears after all.

Rather than leave students discouraged, present them with a challenge. Remind them of the many benefits of technology and acknowledge that electronic gadget use will continue to grow rapidly. How can science and technology address the unintended environmental consequences of these tools? Assign small groups of students a particular piece of technology and have them brainstorm ideas that would promote energy efficiency – either on the part of the consumer or the manufacturer, or both. Have groups present their solutions to the class and discuss them. What common solutions were raised? What can students and their families do now to use their electronic devices in a responsible manner?

Here are some related resources from the Middle School Portal 2: Energy Sources, The Power of Electricity,  What is Happening to Polar Bears? Real Data, Claims, and Evidence. The October 2008 issue of the free online magazine Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears included articles about natural resources, the NEED project, and energy efficiency activities for home and school.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Jessica Fries-Gaither and published June 1, 2009 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 4/23/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

The Relationship Between Sea Surface Temperature and Hurricane Activity

Is your unit on climate and weather approaching? Here’s some research you can use to enrich students’ understanding of weather. It can help you make real-world connections from the textbook and classroom to the research scientists working to understand the science of hurricanes.

The news comes from ScienceDaily. The article, Increased Hurricane Activity Linked to Sea Surface Warming, explains how two variables, sea surface temperature and atmospheric wind field, were used to model the conditions under which hurricanes form. When they focused on temperature, the researchers found that a small increase in sea surface temperature, 0.5 degrees C, had a large impact on hurricane activity.

Mark Saunders, one of the researchers from University College London, emphasized,

Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity. However, it is important that climate models are able to reproduce the observed relationship between hurricane activity and sea surface temperature so that we can have confidence in their reliability to project how hurricane activity will respond to future climate change.

An impressive, aggregate satellite photo of several hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico during 2005 accompanies the article. There are also links to several recent, related stories.

How to Turn This News Event into an Inquiry-Based, Standards-Related Science Lesson

This news article connects directly to the Earth and Space Sciencecontent standard for grades 5-8 of the National Science Education Standards, which includes this fundamental concept: “Global patterns of atmospheric movement influence local weather. Oceans have a major effect on climate, because water in the oceans holds a large amount of heat.” The reported research also connects to the Science as Inquiry content standard.

If your students already have a good understanding of the science of hurricanes, ask them what they think would be different about the world’s hurricanes if the sea surface temperature increased just a half degree C. How do they think one could investigate that question? What other variables need to be considered? What other existing evidence could be used to inform one’s hypotheses? Suggest that they might look at the history of hurricanes and the sea surface temperature conditions under which they formed. Why would such an investigation be potentially useful?

Then show them the brief article and ask, What do you think Saunder’s intention was when he said, “Our analysis does not identify whether greenhouse gas-induced warming contributed to the increase in water temperature and thus to the increase in hurricane activity?” Lead students to the related ideas of methods of science, which include making inferences supported by the evidence. This research did not investigate what might contribute to sea surface temperature increases, only the effects of sea surface temperature increases.

Here are some additional resources that are part of the Middle School Portal 2 collection to facilitate your instruction regarding weather and climate:

 The Powerful Punch of  a Hurricane; El Nino and His Sister La NinaTracking El Nino; Detecting El Nino in Sea Surface Temperature DataOceans, Climate and Weather; Earth’s Oceans, and Ocean Temperatures.

We Want Your Feedback

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org.

This post was originally written by Mary LeFever and published February 7, 2008 in the Connecting News to the National Science Education Standards blog. The post was updated 3/27/12 by Jessica Fries-Gaither.

Beyond Penguins Wins SPORE Award

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears has been awarded the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE) by Science Magazine. The magazine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, developed the prize to spotlight the best online materials in science education.

Science editors and a panel of teachers and researchers in the fields select the prize winners. Kimberly Lightle and Jessica Fries-Gaither of the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears staff were invited to write an essay about the project’s history and goals. The essay, Penguins and Polar Bears Integrates Science and Literacy, appears in the January 28 issue of Science.

Even though the magazine is directed at K-5 teachers, much of the content is applicable to the middle grades. Each of the 20 issues covers science concepts such as rocks and minerals, the water cycle, seasons, states and changes of matter, and plants, all in the context of the Arctic and Antarctica. Each issue highlights a literacy strategy, misconceptions, ideas on integrating technology, the research that is going on at the polar regions, and much more! Project staff have also written informational texts that have been differentiated in terms of reading level. The books are available in three versions – including an electronic version with an audio track. The Stories for Students link in the header of the site will take you to all versions of the books.

Thanksgiving Science

From the pop-up thermometer to turkey genetics, Thanksgiving offers lots of topics that can be explored through science. Thanks to Terry Shiverdecker for pulling together resources from the Ohio Resource Center collection of exemplary science, mathematics, and English/language arts resources.

Along with these resources consider asking students to conduct Internet research to answer these questions:

• What is it about a traditional Thanksgiving meal that makes you sleepy? Is it the tryptophan in turkey or something else?
• What is the science behind those golden brown and delicious dinner rolls? Hint: Maillard reaction
• Does cornstarch or flour make the best gravy?

Please share any other resources/ideas/questions/comments and have a great time!

Delicious and Nutritious
The food we use to celebrate Thanksgiving is delicious and may also be nutritious. But if we stuff ourselves we are likely to suffer the consequences. What better time to study digestion, what we get from food, and how science comes to the rescue when we over do it?

Thanksgiving Science: Tryptophacts and Tryptophantasies
Is turkey what makes you sleepy at Thanksgiving? No. Maybe. (How much did you eat?)

Food and the Digestive System
This lesson focuses on the digestive system. Students identify the major organs of the digestive system and determine the function of each organ. This Science NetLinks lesson is the first of a three part series.

Good Food, Good Health
Students explore ways in which food provides energy and materials for our bodies. In this investigation, students will use online resources to help them explore how food can affect their overall health. This lesson is the second of a Science NetLinks three part series.

Got Broccoli?
This lesson is designed to help students understand why the body needs food, and how it takes necessary nutrients as food passes through the digestive system. Students are asked to look critically at the advertising claims of foods they eat, recognizing those that ascribe unrealistic, emotional, or psychological benefits to foods, rather than nutritional benefits. Students will then create an original advertising campaign for a “forgotten” vegetable, presenting compelling, factual information about the nutrients found in these foods and the benefits derived from them.

Enzyme Salad Lab
In this activity students examine the effects of a specific digestive enzyme (bromelin) found in pineapple on a specific protein found in Jell-O.

The Effectiveness of Antacids
In this performance assessment from PALS, students design and conduct a scientific experiment to test which of four antacids would be most effective for neutralizing acid. They will rank the antacids in order from most effective to least effective and explain how they determined the effectiveness of each one. The resource is designed to assess grades 9-12 students but can be modified to be appropriate for middle level students.

Pop-Up Turkey Thermometers
How do those pop-up thermometers they put in turkeys work? It turns out that there is a little piece of a solder type material in the thermometer that melts at 185 degree F. So when the turkey reaches that temperature the solder melts, the plastic pops up, and you know it is time to eat. This bit of Thanksgiving information can be related to change of phase, heat transfer, and physical/chemical change. You could also consider a design challenge around this idea.

Matter of State
This lesson is designed to give students the opportunity to observe a phenomenon created by particle movement. Students begin to move from the fundamental concept of solid, liquid and gas to the reasoning for why the states exist under given conditions.

The Heat Is On
In this resource students discover how heat is transferred by conduction through matter by watching interactive video segments.

Turkeys and Genetics
The turkeys served on Thanksgiving Day are dramatically different from the ones served many years ago. To meet the demand for birds with more white meat, turkeys have been selectively bred and fed special diets designed to result in birds with larger breasts. Consider engaging students in a discussion of this somewhat controversial practice as a way to introduce genetics.

Modeling Mendel’s Pea Experiment
This modeling activity allows students to discover for themselves what Mendel uncovered in his famous pea experiments. It is an excellent introduction to Mendelian genetics which generates discussion and stimulates interest in Mendel’s principles. Students are encouraged to use the same observation and critical thinking skills that Mendel used.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/09/2012.

The Science of Sports II

Looking for “sporty” ways to teach your students about science? Here are some resources from the Middle School Portal 2 Digital Library. You can do your own searches at MSP2 Collection of Resources.

Science of NFL Football
In America, the autumn season means two things–back to school and back to football. To celebrate both events, NBC News’ educational arm, NBC Learn, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Football League (NFL) to release the “Science of NFL Football”–an informative 10-part video series that explores the science behind America’s most beloved sport. Made especially for students and teachers as they head back to the classroom, these videos are aligned to lesson plans and national state education standards. Lessons plans for middle school students that accompany each video can be found at http://lessonopoly.org/node/10804.

For each segment in the series, an NSF-supported scientist explains the selected scientific principle, while NFL athletes describe how these principles apply to their respective positions. Series scientists supported by NSF are: University of Florida aerospace engineer Tony Schmitz, Clemson University mechanical engineer John Ziegert, University of Maryland physicist Sylvester “Jim” Gates and Bryn Mawr College mathematician Rhonda Hughes. Also participating in the series are two scientists from the University of Connecticut, kinesiologist Douglas Casa and nutritionist Nancy Rodriguez. Current players and retirees who participated in the video series include:

Former NFL Players:
* Orlando Pace, Tackle
* Hardy Nickerson, Linebacker
* Antonio Freeman, Wide Receiver
* Joey Harrington, Quarterback
* Marshall Faulk, Running Back
* Craig Hentrich, Punter
* Morten Andersen, Place Kicker
* Ryan Kuehl, Long Snapper

Current NFL Players:
* Hines Ward, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
* Antwaan Randle El, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
* Scott Paxson, Nose Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
* Patrick Cobbs, Running Back, Miami Dolphins
* Yeremiah Bell, Safety, Miami Dolphins
* Jake Long, Tackle, Miami Dolphins
* Dan Carpenter, Place Kicker, Miami Dolphins
* Lousaka Polite, Running Back, Miami Dolphins

The Science of Speed
The Science of Speed, produced for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and written and hosted by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, explains the scientific principles that are so essential to the NASCAR experience. Viewers learn how science makes cars powerful, agile, fast and safe – and how these same principles affect their own cars.

Science of the Olympic Winter Games
NBC Learn, the educational arm of NBC News, teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to produce Science of the Olympic Winter Games, a 16-part video series that explores the science behind individual Olympic events, including Downhill and Aerial Skiing, Speed Skating and Figure Skating, Curling and Hockey, and Ski Jumping, Bobsledding and Snowboarding. Each video is complemented with lesson plans which include fun classroom activities. The lesson plans were written by teachers at Academic Business Consultants for grades 6-9 and are aligned with California State Standards.

Exploratorium: Sports
The Exploratorium website provides creative educational materials for introductory physics students and teachers. Users can learn about the science behind a homerun, find out how the physics of balance helps enthusiasts surf the waves, and discover the physics behind many other popular sports. The site is equipped with interviews, enticing images, and enthralling descriptions. Visitors can find interesting articles covering sports topics such as fitness challenges for climbers and the way balls bounce.

Paintball: Chemistry Hits Its Mark
The first paintballs were fired by foresters and ranchers to mark trees and cattle. In the 1980s, someone got the idea that it would be more fun to fire paintballs at people than at trees and cows. Thus the sport of paintball was born. In this article from ChemMatters, learn how the one billion paintballs manufactured each year are a product of chemistry and engineering. You’ll need to scroll down a couple of pages to get to the Paintball article.

Golf Balls
Since the late 1800s, chemists have been called on to find ways to produce lighter, faster, and durable golf balls. This site traces the chemistry that has transformed the ball and promises to create a ball that will “soar like a cruise missile, hit the ground at a very shallow angle, and roll for up to 40 yards on hard ground.”

Extreme Adventure
Do you have what it takes to win the Ultimate Race? Find out with the Tryscience Extreme Challenge! Compete on seven courses in four sports- mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and snowboarding. You must train and apply the science behind the sport to beat the challenge time and earn each course medal.

Come to the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways online network to discuss this and many other topics and connect with colleagues!