Resource Type
Completion Time
Less than a week
Middle School and Up
Download and Share
Cristina Solis
Computers with Internet access
Carbon Footprint Worksheet (attached)
General Life Science
Life Science
Earth Science
Organisms and Their Environments
Environmental Studies
Polar Science
General Environmental Studies
General Polar Science
Climate Change
Climate Change


Students will investigate what a carbon footprint is and calculate their own personal carbon footprint. Finally, students will develop ways to reduce their carbon footprint.


  • Students will know that the principles of chemistry underlie the functioning of biological systems.
  • Students will know that carbon, because of its ability to combine in many ways with itself and other elements, has a central role in the chemistry of living organisms.
  • Students will know the idea of atoms explains the conservation of matter: in chemical reactions the number of atoms stay the same no matter how they are arranged, so their total mass stays the same.

Lesson Preparation

  1. This lesson requires computers with internet connection. Teachers should sign up for computer lab time, a school library appointment, or check out laptop carts for this lesson.
  2. Print out one worksheet per group.
  3. Log into and click on the "Carbon Cycle" video.
  4. Obtain 10 key calculators (optional).


  1. Ask students, what is carbon? Possible answers: it's an element from the periodic table, etc.
  2. Ask students what is a footprint? Possible answers: it's the dent your foot makes into the dirt when you're walking.
  3. Ask students, what is a carbon footprint?
  4. Show the Brainpop video "Carbon Cycle."
  5. Have a class discussion.
  6. Divide students into groups of 4.
  7. Provide one worksheet and one computer with internet connection per group.
  8. Students log onto the Nature Conservancy's website:
  9. Each student in the group will take a turn using the computer to calculate their carbon footprint. Make sure to click on each tab, Get Started, Home Energy, Driving and Flying, Food and Diet, Recycling and Waste, and Results. Students may be reluctant to fill in annual mileage since they are not drivers yet or just don't know what their mileage is, but as passengers in a car instead of using mass transit, they do contribute to carbon emissions. Therefore, students may need help with calculating their annual mileage. They can use a standard mileage rate of 8,206 miles per year for male teens 16-19 (source: US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Average Annual Miles per Driver by Age Group). Or students may want to calculate their daily mileage to school and multiply by the number of school days. The optional 10 key calculators may be used here. On the Results tab, students can observe their behavior break down and compare their behavior to US average and a world average.
  10. Ask students to share what they think about their results.
  11. Now have students try to reduce their carbon footprint by 20%. Ask students, what would you do to change your consumption or behaviors? Which question can you answer differently to reduce your footprint?
  12. Ask students to enter on Table 2 a few sentences about the changes they decided to make, and why they made that choice. Have them think about the values embedded in their choice. Have students think about what ideas from the news, other classes or from their prior experience are informing their choice? Finally, ask what further information could help you to make this choice?
  13. After completing Table 2, have students recalculate each of their footprints. Enter the new numbers onto Table 3.
  14. Each group will make a 3-5 minute presentation about their calculations and their behavior changes.
  15. Class discussion. What is useful to you about calculating your carbon footprint?


  1. Students can log in at home and do this activity at home with their family.
  2. Students can graph their results on graph paper or using Excel's graphing feature.
  3. Students can test and compare several different websites' carbon calculators.


The teacher will use the group presentation and worksheet as an assessment.


Cristina Solis
PolarTREC Teacher 2011-12


5-8 9-12 Content Standard A: Science As Inquiry: Content Standard B: Physical Science: Content Standard F: Science In Personal and Social Perspectives: a. Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry a. Properties and changes of properties in matter c. Transfer of energy a. Personal health b. Populations, resources, and environments e. Science and technology in society Content Standard A: Science As Inquiry: Content Standard B: Physical Science: Content Standard C: Life Science: Content Standard D: Earth ad Space Science: Content Standard F: Science In Personal and Social Perspectives: a. Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry b. Structure and properties of matter e. Conservation of energy and increase in disorder f. Interactions of energy and matter e. Matter, energy, and organization in living systems a. Energy in the earth system b. Geochemical cycles a. Personal and community health d. Environmental quality e. Natural and human-induced hazards
Attachment Size
Download Complete Lesson (PDF - 200 KB)200.49 KB 200.49 KB
Download Worksheet (Word - 42 KB)42 KB 42 KB

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.