Skip to Content

Human Energy Systems | Goals

General Unit Information

We recommend that teachers complete the Systems & Scale, Plants, and Ecosystems units before the Human Energy Systems unit if possible. The foundational knowledge introduced in these units helps prepare students to engage in conversations and activities that require a basic understanding of photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and combustion of fossil fuels (on a cellular or atomic-molecular scale), and apply these concepts to carbon cycling and energy flow (on a large scale). It is through examining the pools and fluxes of carbon at a large scale that students will be able to make connections between energy use, combustion of fossil fuels, carbon emissions, and climate change.

One of the tools used in this unit to help students organize information is the “Three Questions” (see the Three Questions Large Scale Handout). These Three Questions are referred to throughout the unit to scaffold students in their interpretation of energy use and carbon-transforming processes in the context of human economic activities. In particular, students should learn to answer the Carbon Pools Question, the Carbon Movement Question, and the Energy Question in three important contexts:

  1. At the macroscopic scale, they relate our economic activities and lifestyle choices to carbon-transforming processes, especially combustion of fossil fuels. Students should understand both activities that directly use fossil fuels (such as driving a car) and activities that indirectly use fossil fuels (such as using electrical appliances or buying products that require fossil fuels for manufacture and transportation).
  2. Relating local systems, actions, and choices to global effects and outcomes, particularly increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  3. Relating changes in global carbon pools (the atmosphere, biomass, soil organic carbon, and organic carbon in fossil fuels) to the balance of movement of carbon between these pools.

Finally, some students might respond to the material presented in this unit by offering conflicting claims they have heard about climate change from their families, friends, or the media. Footnotes are included throughout the Teacher’s Guide to help you respond to these claims using with the evidence the scientific community looks to interpret these conflicting claims. Although scientists view climate change as a matter of scientific evidence and not one of morals and values, the students may feel that their core values and viewpoints are being threatened, which could in turn cause them to disengage. The footnotes included in this unit are intended to provide additional perspectives you might use to help your students interpret the claims they are making in light of the available evidence for anthropogenic climate change.

While we want to encourage students to ask questions and engage in dialogue about the conflicting claims about climate change, we also want to encourage these conversations to be constrained by accurate scientific evidence. Look for footnotes throughout the Teacher’s Guide-- these are designed to help you navigate these conversations if they arise.

Unit Goals

The tables below show goals for this unit in two forms. Table 1 shows unit learning objectives aligned with the Three Questions. Table 1 also contrasts the goal performance with performances of students at lower learning progression levels.

The list that follows shows the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) addressed by this unit.