2010 Future Fuels from Forests Teacher Institute
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2009 Future Fuels from Forests Teacher Institute
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2008 Future Fuels from Forests Teacher Institute
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2010 High School Future Fuels Field Trips to Michigan Tech: Feb. 23 & 25 and March 16 & 18
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2009 High School Future Fuels Field Trips to Michigan Tech: March 18, 20, 25, 27
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Future Fuels from Forests
K-12 Teaching Units on Biofuels

These units were developed by teachers attending the Future Fuels from Forests Teacher Institute ~ July 7-11, 2008 at Michigan Tech University with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Table of Contents -- All PDF Files


Kindergarten students will explore what common and alternative fuels are, where they come from, how they are used, and what makes something sustainable.


2. Fueling Our Future: Investigating Ethanol Production from Forest Products by Melissa Jaeger

This unit is written to be part of a nine week 8th grade science exploratory course that explores the energy resources available to citizens of Michigan, their feasibility, their environmental, social, and economic impact. Students will be introduced to the concept of a need to replace gasoline as they think about questions on the opening survey about how the high prices of gasoline are impacting how they move from one place to another. After this, students will discuss and then journal about what characteristics an ideal fuel would have. Through activities simulating the processing of ethanol, power points, readings, and discussion students will investigate how well ethanol would fit the ideal fuel description.

This unit will inform students about GIS and how it can be used to pick an appropriate site for a biofuel plant. I want students to know about geographical information systems, how it works, and, who uses it. Students will then work on a group project using GIS while investigating using Aspen trees for biofuel. This unit will be used in my environmental science class when we discuss renewable and non-renewable resources.

This 8th grade Earth Science unit is intended to compliment a traditional and alternative energy unit in which students have already learned about the production and use fossil fuels, nuclear, wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass, etc. With ethanol, other biofuels, and energy in general on the news daily and heavily advertised, students need to understand how to “see through” the biases and evaluate the validity of claims. In this unit, students will learn about different types of biofuels, how biofuels are produced, the environmental and economic impacts of biofuels, writing a scientific survey, and educating others about biofuels. The culminating activity of the unit allows students to use their new knowledge and the results of their “What do you know about biofuels?” survey to create a public service messages dispelling commonly-accepted biofuel myths



    5. Alternative Energy by Scott Phillips 

This unit shows students some of the possible options on both a large and small scale. Main themes for this unit include global warming, energy use, and sustainability. One of the goals of the unit is to show hat if everyone does something, they can add up to some big changes.

Fossils fuels are a limited resource that will be extremely scarce in the foreseeable future. In addition to dwindling supplies, fossil fuels have a significant environmental impact. Science and Math teachers must encourage students to choose careers and provide the skills necessary to enter fields that will explore and develop alternative energy sources for the growing world demand. The following unit is designed to integrate current curriculum on photosynthesis with ethanol production. Ethanol production and use is a current technology that is expanding rapidly in the global market. Many countries and independent companies are working diligently trying to develop technology that will maximize ethanol production from biomass waste or low quality crops. Ethanol may not be the long term solution to dependence on oil but it may be a stepping stone in the right direction.


This unit has been designed to give students a basic understanding of biofuels and fossil fuels. Students will begin by defining sustainability and comparing their own to other scientifically accepted definitions. Next, students will study carbon dioxide output emitted through their daily lives. The students will measure their own carbon footprint as well as determine what in their lives they can do to decrease the amount of fuels that they consume. Students will use stoichiometry to determine which fuel, ethanol or fossil, are better for the environment. In lesson three ,students will begin to understand the difference between renewable resources and fossil fuels. Lesson four will have students test different materials through calorimetry to determine which substance is able to release the most energy through its combustion. For the unit assessment, students will write a persuasive essay that explains their position on changing to ethanol from fossil fuels.

This unit is inquiry-based to encourage student thought and discovery. Students will have had prior experience with similar experiments as it will come near the end of the course after the study of thermodynamics and leading into the study of kinetics and catalysts. The major goal of this unit is to have students carry out a chemical experiment while seeing the relevance of the chemistry concepts they learn in class. This unit centers around a partially student-designed experiment investigating the effects of changing variables on the hydrolysis of cellulose. Students will then attempt to ferment and distill their product to obtain ethanol. This investigation will be set in the context of the current challenges faced by scientists in producing cellulosic ethanol. Students will learn some of the fascinating chemistry involved in this cutting-edge area of science and come to appreciate how chemistry might be used to help solve some of society’s future energy challenges.

This unit could be used in an Advanced Chemistry course while the students are learning about combustion, and distillation of an alcohol. While studying these topics it would be a good time to share with the students the environmental effects of combustion, showing also the difference between renewable and nonrenewable resources. By making these biofuels, the students will then be able to form their own opinions about sustainability and the amount of carbon given off into the environment. The goal for this unit is to increase not only awareness of the problems with our energy consumption today, but also to get the students to develop their own theories about how these problems can be addressed.

Earth Science

Today’s generation is being face with a new challenge. With fossil fuels being “quickly” depleted as far as the geological time scale reference is concerned, an alternative must be found. Alternative energy made from biomass (plant and animal) is part of the answer. In creating these new fuels from the forests, productivity along with sustainability must be considered when harvesting to ensure biodiversity and longevity of the resource used. This unit was created to correlate the Michigan High School Content Expectations with classroom instruction on alternative energy and renewable resources.

As part of a renewable resources unit students will research and learn about Biomass Fuels. Through laboratory activities students will learn to measure and calculate the amount of biomass in trees on school property, determine tree age by counting tree rings and calculate the amount of carbon the trees sequester over a particular period of time, and research the potential for the area in biomass production from trees. Through discussion and cooperative learning students will investigate the forests of the world. This six day unit can be stretched out to accommodate more time in the school forest if needed for either tree identification or measuring tree diameters.

In this unit, students will describe renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy and compare their effects on the environment, including overall costs and benefits. Key concepts addressed include: sustainability, renewable and nonrenewable resources, and ethanol.

Predicting and mitigating the potential impact of global climate change requires an understanding of the mechanisms of Earth’s climate (HSSCE Companion Document 2007).  Topics covered include 1) the carbon cycle, 2) how the movement of carbon can benefit or harm society, 3) critiquing arguments based on scientific evidence, and 4) investigating the changes over the past 50 years in the use, distribution, and the importance of natural resources.  Students will accomplish these goals by describing and evaluating changes in spatial distribution and use of natural resources (biomass), and the social and environmental consequences of development, distribution, and use of natural resources such as biomass (HSSSCE 2007). Students will:

  • Draw and explain how carbon cycles through the four earth systems.
  • Explain how human use of carbon can benefit or harm society.
  • Use scientific evidence to defend whether grain (corn) or cellulosic ethanol is more sustainable.
  • Use maps and photographs of Michigan to determine how the use and distribution of natural resources has changed.
  • Design and implement a community survey to determine local views regarding natural resources,